The Artist’s silence is golden

2012-03-16 09:31

Film: The Artist (Ster-Kinekor)
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Featuring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle
Rating: 9/10

Director Michel Hazanavicius’ multi award-winning film is a reminder that film is a visual spectacular. Before film came along, people sat around their radios or read their books.

Suddenly, there were moving pictures to tell stories and a new art form was born. Stars were made and careers were created in everything from sound effects to monster making. Audiences dressed up and flocked to the latest release.

The Artist celebrates nonverbal storytelling, while also harking back to an era of great change in film – the coming of words to supplement the moving pictures.

Best actor Oscar winner Jean Dujardin is simply wonderful as the arrogant, egotistical silent film-era superstar George Valentin. He gives a girl, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), her break in an offhand kind of way, inadvertently linking their fates through one of cinema’s most tumultuous times.

George is an old dog who refuses to learn new tricks, so when the talkies come he won’t talk. Peppy, meanwhile, finds her voice and her star rises as George’s falls.

The Artist is thus a film about film within a film, and it uses all the devices of the silent era – pantomime and a few choice written sentences to move the narrative along.

It also captures the beautiful texture of film at the time and the nuances of black and white. The director filmed on the same format as the films of the era to give The Artist an authenticity that takes the audience back in time to enjoy this film as an audience in the mid-20s might have.

That Hazanavicius should choose to chronicle film’s biggest change – even greater than the coming of colour – now is hardly surprising.

All filmmakers are in the throes of another such change – trying to compete in a world where entertainment is available on endless platforms, where people can watch a film on their phone (though why they would want to is a mystery to a cinephile like me) and spend the 90 minutes required to see a film checking out their friends’ status on Facebook.

While 3D has gone some way to luring back film audiences, the sad truth is that many have lost their love of going to the movies – of seeing the film as the director intended on a big screen, uninterrupted and in all its glory.

Hopefully, The Artist’s impressive five-Oscar haul – including best picture – this year will draw both lovers of film and the curious to the cinema, and remind them that though change is good, it can also result in loss along the way.

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