movie film review | chris tookey


© The Weinstein Company - all rights reserved
  Artist Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
8.78 /10
Jean Dujardin , Berenice Bejo , Uggy the dog
Full Cast >

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Written by: Michel Hazanavicius

Released: 2011
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: France
Length: 100

The Artist is that rarest of phenomena: cinematic perfection.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

Bookmark and Share

A French picture shot in Hollywood with a largely American cast, it deserves to win Best Film, Director, Writer, Actor and Actress at next yearís Academy Awards, along with numerous technical prizes. If there were such an award, it would be a certainty to win Best Dog.

The Artist is Ė and I donít write these words more than once every decade Ė a work of genius: witty, sophisticated and blessedly original. It is moving, charming and funny. Itís one of the most touching, feelgood celebrations of love: love between the sexes, love between man and dog, and love of cinema.

Oh, and itís silent. And in black and white.

Please donít let either of these eccentricities put you off.

The ďsilentĒ soundtrack has more than enough sound on it to keep anyone entertained. The witty, Oscar-worthy orchestral score is by Ludovic Bourse, mostly pastiche of the 20s and 30s but with an extract from Bernard Herrmanís score for Vertigo and a nod to Franz Waxmanís Sunset Boulevard.

Thereís clever use of sound effects, especially during a hilarious nightmare sequence in which a silent-movie star finds himself trapped in a world where everything emits sound except him. And a marvellously unexpected transition to sound should have you grinning from ear to ear as you leave the cinema.

The style is breathtaking. It actually improves on the harsh photography of the originals, and looks more like the sophisticated, glamorous black-and-white of the 40s golden era. To achieve this, cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman shot on colour stock with special diffusion filters, and then converted it to monochrome. The effect is uniquely magical.

The film is a masterpiece of Art Deco design. Colour would only have detracted from its astonishing beauty.

The Artist is a spinoff from the French series of OSS 117 spy films. Successful in France but largely ignored abroad, these were James Bond parodies with the same two co-stars and writer-director. The Artist is, however, infinitely superior.

It takes us back to an era associated with another of cinemaís greatest films, Singiní In The Rain: the moment when sound came to cinema, making and destroying many a career.

A star in France but internationally unknown, Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a silent movie star with the swashbuckling energy of Douglas Fairbanks Sr and the cheesy self-confidence of Gene Kelly.

We first meet George in 1927, hamming to the audience and hogging the limelight at a movie premiere, where he pays more attention to his pet Jack Russell terrier (played, quite brilliantly, by Uggy) than his disgruntled co-star and wife, played by Penelope Ann Miller as a glowering cross between Mary Astor and the middle-aged Joan Crawford.

We see that one of Georgeís most devoted fans is Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), herself an aspiring actress but still only an extra. George resists the temptation of an extra-marital affair but gives Peppy her first big break in showbiz.

George finds his star waning with the arrival of sound, which he thinks is only a fad. He insists on his integrity as an artist, and refuses to bow to fashion.

As a result, he loses wife, house and even his loyal chauffeur (James Cromwell). George watches jealously as his former studio boss (John Goodman) turns Peppy into a talkies superstar, similar to the young Joan Crawford. All that the self-destructive, near-insane George has left is booze, some very flammable old films and his super-intelligent dog.

You may feel as though youíve seen this film before, when it was called A Star Is Born. There are similarities, but the film is more than a parody.

Itís a brilliant tribute to a past age of movies, including the elegant romantic comedies of Ernst Lubitsch, the silent thrillers of Fritz Lang and the movies of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The film is an affectionate pastiche of all those and more, with its storytelling gusto, deliberate naivety and seemingly effortless charm. Cineastes will love the many references, but you wonít need to be a movie buff to be captivated.

Dujardin is famous in France as a comic actor, but shows marvellous profundity here. He has an extraordinary ability to overact and play for real at the same time.

Berenice Bejo, a gorgeous Franco-Argentine actress married to the director, is a real find: a comedienne with the goofy charm of silent star Marion Davies.

This is a joyously entertaining movie, but also a potentially important one. It will, in our age of mindless action, 3D blockbusters and multi-million dollar budgets, remind film-makers and audiences alike of the many wonderful qualities that cinema has largely lost: elegance, beauty, heartfelt emotion.

I am sure this will be the surprise hit of the year. I hope it will send audiences back to films by Frank Borzage, FW. Murnau and Lubitsch Ė directors hugely well-known in their own time, but unjustly forgotten today. This is a sweet, poignant, very funny movie. Itís also a great one. Watch this, and youíll enter the new year with much-needed optimism.

Key to Symbols