Directed by Michel Hanaviscious this French film pays homage to the silent era of nineteen twenties and thirties film making and its role in the creation of an early form of celebrity culture. Lovingly crafted by Hanaviscius the films charms are enhanced by the casting of Jean Dujardin as George Valentin- a handsome Rudolph Valentino/Clark Gable type- the silent film star at the pinnacle of his success and Berenice Bujo as Peppy Miller as the emerging star of the talkies being ushered in as silent film is now considered passé by the Hollywood industry bigwigs. In contrast to many other films released over the Holiday period-mainly sequels or remakes- The Artist relies on neither computer generated visuals, big bangs, elaborate stunts or the sacrifice of plot over cheap but very expensive aesthetics to make its impact. Instead the lack of dialogue is almost refreshing-dialogue and sound do appear at incongruous moments unexpectedly and as an effective tool- allowing the soundtrack by Ludovic Bource and the facial expressions of the cast to articulate most of the plot development. The black and white cinematography is also extremely effective in lending the film an air of authenticity and for those purists who claim they don’t make films like they used to here is evidence to the contrary.
The action revolves around the accidental meeting of Valentin and Miller after the premiere of George’s latest successful film and expelled from the crowd of well wishers in front of the cinema Peppy is catapulted into the limelight after her photo appears on the front of the following day’s papers with the press enquiring after the mystery girl’s identity. Valentin is also fascinated by this exquisite creature and on encountering her at the film studio where she is auditioning as an extra a mutual fascination becomes something more. However as her career takes an upward trajectory his is starting to flounder as the arrival of sound heralds the death knell for the stars of the former silent era. The Wall Street crash of 1929 does little to improve his fortunes and Valentin finds himself bankrupt and at his lowest ebb. Peppy however the latest sensation-her newfound fame even elicits from her an oblique reference to Garbo’s plea for solitude in the phrase ‘I want to be alone’- but despite this her respect, admiration and love for Valentin remain intact.
The Artist is that unusual genre of film in that it is hard not to like. Many may argue that it is style over substance but, in fact, its style is its substance and the whole thing simply exquisitely executed. From the great swells of the soundtrack to the ravishing beauty of its stars-look out for Malcolm Mc Dowell and George Goodman in supporting roles- everything draws to a nostalgic feel that is hard to resist and is indeed pointless trying to. In essence, the film is refreshing in its objectives of simply setting out to entertain in a market saturated with overkill and complicated plot lines bringing everything back to merely pleasing the audience whilst providing them with a glamorous piece of high quality escapism which we all need once in a while. Don’t we?