If you are looking for a film that has amazing CGI effects, 3D graphics popping out in front of you, guns and time travel galore with a pinch of sci fi action and a touch of an unrealistic story plus gratuitous sex scenes, then, perhaps The Artist is not a film I would recommend you go see. However, if you are after a witty, touching, atmospheric film with strong reliance on performance and story, then here is an original film you are not likely ever to see made again. The film has already been nominated for six Golden Globes and word is it could be a firm favourite at the Oscars in the spring. So what’s the story?
Firstly, it is a black and white silent movie, set in 1927 and centred around an actor, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who, in his time, is a huge silent film star, a kind of debonair Douglas Fairbanks character, who always appears with his coveted dog, Jack, a Jack Russell Terrier played brilliantly by Uggy. He is married but has the hots for a fellow actress, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), whom he meets at the premiere of one of his films. The talkies then come along and stubbornly George decides to stay with silent films, embarking on an expensive silent project that ends terribly, whilst Peppy has taken studio boss Al Zimmer’s advice (John Goodman) and lands a role in a new talking picture. George’s career is on the ropes as it is the end of silent movies and Peppy is becoming a major box office star, just as the 1929 stock market crash occurs. He only has his true companion, Jack beside him and the bottom of a liquer bottle to console him through his tribulations. So can he make a comeback and will Peppy fall for him now she is a movie star? I cannot tell more of the story as it would spoil it but rumour has it there are several campaigns to get Uggy an Oscar nomination for best supporting animal role. He already has a Palm Dog award, (for real) which he was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
The director, Michel Hazanavicius, clearly has a passion for the silent movie era and beautifully captures the naunces and atmosphere of these times without sending it into spoof land. It is a heart felt film about change; the lead role of George having to come to terms with the end of a certain way of working and embracing the future. A lesson for all of us there. The film is shot in the original 1:33 aspect ratio to give an authentic feel of the era by Guillaume Schiffman and the musical score is written by Ludovic Bource, which adds a depth and tone to the overall piece. These facts are all moot however when you consider that the film almost did not get made. Director Michel comments, “For some time, it was no more than a private fantasy. Now it’s made, I’ve met lots of directors and they’ve all told me how jealous they are. They would love to make a silent movie. I tried not to be ironic or cynical or sarcastic. You have to make bold statements. With no dialogue, everything must be simple. My aim was to make a mainstream, feelgood movie. I didn’t want it to be an art-house film.”
Michel had to get the backing of a major distributor on board and recalls his conversation with Harvey Weinstein, “When he’d decided to buy the distribution rights, he rang his brother with whom he runs the Weinstein Company. “I’ve just bought a new film,” he told him. “Excellent,” came the reply. “It’s about Hollywood.” “Great.” “It’s French.” “No problem.” “It’s in black and white.” “Well, OK.” “And it’s silent.” “What! Are you crazy?” Michel chuckles. And so you will when you see The Artist. It is spectacular.
The Artist is out now.