(2011) director Michael Hazanavicius
viewed: 12/04/2011 at Embarcadero Cinemas, SF, CA
Modern day silent films are none too common. With the exception of Canadian director Guy Maddin, I can hardly think of any features that have been shot as silents. The Artist from French director Michael Hazanavicius is pure homage to the era, a meta homage, an out-and-out love letter of a film. It’s interesting that the last two features that the kids and I have watched have been both paeans to early cinema. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) peers back at the medium’s birth, its earliest creations, its first master and its DNA. Hazanavicius peers back at the height of the Silent Era, its final years, and its sudden death with the advent of “the talkie”.
The Artist stars Jean Dujardin as Hollywood movie star George Valentin, an amalgam of a number of romantic leading men, dashingly handsome, confident, and suave. He’s just finished his latest hit in 1927, is about the biggest thing on Earth, when he meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a would-be starlet, whose career is just about to take off. When sound film is touted as the next big thing and studio bosses stop all production a year or two later on silent films, Valentin bets his own money on another big spectacle, in his classic manner. The stock market crashes, his film tanks, and Peppy’s career suddenly blooms. It’s a true story of many silent stars, though these characters are all fictional.
Dujardin is smashingly charming and his wonder dog, Uggie, gives one of the best dog performances in recent memory. It’s a crowd-pleaser. Hazanavicius’s loving details of the design and character of the film, filming in the style of the era, a story about the era, is a sweet and swell fun thing. Odd that it’s French, when the story is so totally American, filmed in the United States, though its main stars are French.
The kids were a little bored by it, actually. The funny thing is that we’d been watching Buster Keaton/Fatty Arbuckle shorts just the night before. It wasn’t the silence that left them edgy, maybe it was the melodrama. It certainly wasn’t Uggie. They loved him.
This film has been wow’ing audiences since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and is already an Oscar favorite. Indeed it is a charmer. I don’t know if I was too distracted with the fidgeting of the kids, but while I really enjoyed it, I wasn’t as knocked out as many others have been. It’s a very good film, to my mind, perhaps even an excellent one. It’s certainly well worth seeing.