There were a few times during this film that I forgot I was watching a modern movie.
So beautifully and affectionately does Hazanavicius and co. recreate the era and the aura of the Golden Age of Hollywood in this black and white wonder, that I felt like I was in an old revival movie house instead of the bland big box multiplex where I attended the screening.
For the first silent movie since Mel Brooks took on the genre in SILENT MOVIE in 1976, we get the story of a silent film star whose time in the spotlight may soon be over because the talkies are the wave of the future. Despite that arc, this film doesn’t have any spoken dialogue - except for a single scene that still has no talking but some sound effects – it’s silent from start to finish with white-on-black title cards to boot.
Jean Dujardin suitably plays George Valentin, who we first meet at a lavish film premiere of his latest movie in 1927, basking in the love of his audience. One of his fans, a wide-eyed wannabe starlet named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), through some cute circumstances, breaks into showbiz and her talking pictures take off, while Dujardin’s lose favor.
With only his Jack Russell terrier named Jack (Uggie in real life – who actually has a IMDb page) Dujardin loses his fame and fortune, and spirals down into squalor.
Of course it’s up to Bejo to be Dujardin’s saving angel.
As for the supporting players - John Goodman, as a cantankerous studio boss, is great as always, but he really only seems to be there to help this French film crossover to us Yanks. The also always great James Cromwell plays Dujardin’s valet, Penelope Ann Miller plays Dujardin’s long suffering wife, and Malcolm McDowell has a cameo as a butler. And, as a thousand other critics have already written, Uggie the dog often steals the movie out from under everyone.
Despite a fairly shallow storyline, THE ARTIST is chock full of charm. It’s also full of gorgeous cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman, who shot Hazanavicius’s hilarious retro spy satires OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF THIEVES (also starring Dujardin and Bejo) and its almost as funny sequel OSS 117: LOST IN RIO.
This clever and amusing old fashioned flick pays tribute to so many films over its 100 minute running time that it would be pointless to try to list them (I’m sure there’s a site out there that does), but I’ll just note the dining room scene nod to Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE, the homage to Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD in Dujardin’s washed up re-watching of his old films over and over, and the use of a bit of Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 thriller VERTIGO at a crucial emotional moment.
That last one I mentioned because of VERTIGO star Kim Novak’s recent claim in the magazine Variety that the use of bits of Herrmann’s score (which they paid for and credited) equates “rape.” I think that’s ridiculously extreme – lots of music from classic movies has been reused over the years, and the idea that this Award winning crowd pleaser tarnishes the famous Hitchcock thriller at all is ludicrous.
I felt that composer Ludovic Bource, who otherwise fills the film with appropriate piano backing, and Hazanavicius were incredibly sincere in this execellent tribute.
But, hey, one man’s homage is another man’s rip-off, amirite?