THE ARTIST (PG): On General Release Friday 30th December
The Artist is an endlessly delightful homage to the silent black and white movies of the 1920s, a triumph of humour, wit and seemingly boundless charm. In fact The Artist is so brilliant that it could be used as a litmus test for humanity. Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard would have no problem telling androids and humans apart if he came armed with a copy of this film as only someone without a soul could dislike it.
It’s 1927 and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the biggest silent movie star of the age. He’s devilishly handsome, revels in the limelight, hogs the stage with his trusty performing dog and all but ignores his co-stars. But the inevitable approach of the talkies is drawing ever closer – he’s a star now but for how long?
Meanwhile, his marriage is in trouble and his long-suffering wife takes a dim view of his escapades, especially when he’s snapped with an attractive young woman outside the premiere of his latest film. That woman is Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and she quickly becomes first an extra in George’s next film and then a star in her own right.
They become good friends and almost lovers but the changing of the guard brought by the arrival of sound changes everything: Valentin is dismissed as an antiquated relic and Peppy is contracted to be the major studio’s next big thing.
To make matters worse, Valentin’s self-produced last movie is a flop and he loses his house, his wife and even his loyal manservant just as Peppy’s debut propels her to international stardom.
The Artist is an astounding piece of work. It’s a film as much about the era in which it portrays as it is about its own story. Director Michel Hazanavicius uses all the tricks of silent film to bring it to life. It’s by turns funny, sad and heart-warming and sometimes deliberately, knowingly corny but above all it’s fun. One of the great things about it is that it makes you realise the endlessly creative lengths that filmmakers of that era went to to get around the technical limits of the time.
There are no special effects here, no CGI graphics. And yet, the chemistry between Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo could probably be considered a special effect in its own right. There are dazzling moments of physical comedy, visual inventiveness and spectacular dance routines which wring as much emotion and depth as any film made with modern techniques.
Dujardin wonderfully manages to blend elements from some of the greatest leading men of Hollywood’s golden age: the sly smile of Clark Gable, the vivacity of Gene Kelly in Singing In The Rain (The Artist‘s spiritual predecessor) and the irrepressible physical energy of Douglas Fairbanks, squeezing light-hearted laughs as well as tear-jerking emotion from his performance. It’s an incredible achievement.
Paul Merton has been extolling the virtues of silent film for the last few years andThe Artist is the biggest boon to his cause that he’s ever going to get. It’s consistently enchanting, and without exaggeration, an utter joy to watch. There are few films which can make your face ache from the sheer amount of uninterrupted smiling; it’s an unalloyed delight, a future classic and and absolute must-see.