Release Date: Dec. 23, 2011 Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 100 minutes
Who says they don’t make them like they use to? The perfect companion piece to Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, The Artist is a lovingly crafted reproduction of a 1920s black-and-white silent melodrama by OSS 117 spy spoof franchise director Michel Hazanavicius. Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 star Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a silent movie star whose career is threaten by the arrival of talking pictures. His swift downfall is impressively compared and contrasted to the rise in fame and fortune of sound’s first screen siren, Peppy Miller, played by Hazanavicius’s wife and Dujardin’s OSS 117 costar Bérénice Bejo. Miller maintains a soft spot for Valentin as her chance encounter with him before the advent of sound led to her big Hollywood break. They clearly are meant to be together, but they have many obstacles to overcome, including Valentin’s marriage and his financial ruin after his last silent film bombs the week of the 1929 Wall Street crash. At the heart of The Artist is a story about the willingness to change with the times. Swallow your pride and adapt or die—that’s the moral of The Artist. With his dashing good looks, the wonderfully expressive Dujardin firmly conveys the stubbornness that costs Valentin’s so dearly and he heartbreakingly depicts the faded star’s slow and sad realization that he’s a relic of a bygone era. Bejo radiates warmth and empathy as the woman who constantly comes to the unsuspecting Valentin’s rescue. Dujardin and Bejo share an undeniable chemistry, which dates back to their pairing in both OSS 117s. Hazanavicius was spot on in poking fun at 1960s-era spy thrillers, and he does a remarkable job making a black-and-white silent film that is authentic in spirit and execution. The direction is elegant; the cinematography is beautiful; and the score is eloquent and communicative. Only once does The Artist come across as self-consciously gimmicky, and that is when it borrows briefly from Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. That does not take anything away from The Artist being a welcome respite from the Hollywood blockbusters that employ cutting-edge technology to tell stories that fail to reach the emotional heights of this pleasurable excursion into Hollywood’s past.