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July 2, 2012

The Artist

by Franz Patrick


Artist, The (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) was on top of the world. As a silent film actor in the 1920s, everyone clamored to see his movies. During the red carpet premiere of his most recent work, an onlooker, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), dropped her purse. When she crouched to pick it up, she accidentally bumped into the famous actor as he passed by to pose for the photographers. Everyone laughed it off; the two even ended up on the newspaper together. Peppy was an aspiring actress and no one, especially George, had no idea how big she was about to become when sound became available for actors to speak in the movies. While “The Artist,” written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, was able to surmount the challenge of making a black-and-white picture interesting with flying colors, I was most impressed with the range of emotions it put me through. At first, I wasn’t too excited about it because the earlier scenes lacked the grit of classic silent movies released in the 1920s. Rough cuts between scenes down to the decaying feel of intertitles, more widely known as title cards, were not found here. However, it quickly managed to win me over by its careful attention as to why we should care for George Valentin: what made him a star and why should we root for him as a person? We had a chance to observe him at work. He was charming and friendly with just about everybody which lifted the mood from the long hours. When a scene had to be reshot, he was happy to do it, delivering enough variety so editors would have different interpretations of the same scene to choose from for the final product. When the cameras weren’t rolling, he had a contagious smile on his face, which made me want to smile, but was readily erased if required to deliver intensity during a key scene. Upon watching him work, his downfall became all the more involving. I craved to see him rise from the ashes like a phoenix. But his pride in solely appearing in silent movies and lack of willingness to change in order to reroute his career made it an almost impossible wish to be granted. I enjoyed that the story had elements of romance but it wasn’t exactly a romance. It could very well be about friendship, especially from Peppy’s perspective, a story of showing gratitude for someone who changed our lives. Dujardin and Bejo’s chemistry was tantamount to the project’s success because their characters, whether what they had was a blossoming romantic relationship or just friendship (nonetheless a special one), spent most of the time apart. With the aid of cameras designed to zoom in on the perfect moments when the actors emoted specific feelings like jealousy, despair, and pity, their small moments of chance meetings successfully communicated gargantuan emotions with equal impact. The crescendos of the orchestra were also nicely placed; there were times when I was so moved, tears prepared to slide from my eyes despite my best efforts to hold on and suck it up. With big thanks to the presence of George’s extremely cute Jack Russell Terrier, Uggie, the dramatic scenes never felt saccharine because the sheer joy of watching the dog run down the street to seek help, bark as if it were talking, and perform tricks just because it could. “The Artist” was like its mascot: lively and entertaining. One does not require an extensive knowledge of silent movies to appreciate its message.

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