Monday, January 02, 2012

The Artist

Today I saw The Artist, starring Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a huge Charlie Chaplin fan. In fact, aside from the Harold Lloyd comedies I would watch with my parents as a small child, and an especially good version of The Scarlet Letter I caught a few years back at SIFF, I can't say I've ever really 'loved' silent films.

That made the delight of The Artist all the more satisfying.

It's 1927 and George Valentin (Dujardin) is a silent film star in the prime of his career. Peppy Miller (Bejo) is an up-and-coming actress he's enamored with, and as a result, helps jump start her career. Things are fine for a split second until talking pictures come along.

George is completely resistant to switching over to the 'dark side' of this new trend and inevitably makes himself obsolete. He sells his belongings and retreats into a terrible cloud of depression. At the same time, Peppy embraces the change and becomes an even bigger star.

Though the supporting cast is easily recognizable (John Goodman, James Cromwell, etc.), it's an added bonus for the American audience that the two leads are French. I can't say I would have been so easily convinced by a Clooney or a Damon in the main role for the simple fact that I know what their true demeanors are like (and hamming it up could've seemed false).

But here, I was won over by the heart and the soul of the experience. The love letter to a Hollywood many of us seem to forget. The simplicity of a love story intertwined with that of a person descending into their own man-made failure.

The various winks to the audience and the perfectly placed loyal dog could have been annoying if not worked into the story properly—luckily they were, and that's a credit to the screenwriter/director (Michel Hazanavicius).

All in all a fresh change from the popcorn action flicks, endless sequels and ho-hum dramas presently permeating our theaters.


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