There are some who doubt filmmakers can still make great movies. They doubt that Hollywood - with its focus on celebrities over substance, computer effects over strong cinematography and stereotypes over stories - can still create classic movies that will resonate for years to come.
“The Artist” should help prove them wrong.
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Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a successful screen actor in the late 1920s. His facial expressions and his delightful little dog helped him achieve stardom back when the films were black and white and one of the only sounds you heard in the theater were people chewing popcorn behind you. In a wonderful ode to that era, "The Artist" replicates many of the stylistic flourishes of those older films. In an inspired choice that may alienate some viewers, the film is entirely in black and white and features very little dialogue.
Thankfully, two impressive actors were cast to help guide the story. The main one is Dujardin, who does a wonderful job as the lead character. In the same way that Valentin found fame in the 20s, Dujardin succeeds in conveying his emotions with intense acting and a flair for the camera.
The character, however, isn’t prepared for the major cinematic changes that the world is about to encounter. When he learns that new motion pictures are going to include sound, he rejects the notion, laughing at the indignity of it all. A young actress that Valentin has recently co-starred with named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) isn’t so quick to write off talkies, so as his career begins to ebb, hers starts to rise.
Like Dujardin, Bejo has an expressive face and a charismatic way, so one can imagine her really succeeding in the silent films of yesteryear. Added to that fact is her immense beauty that captivates audiences and the press. Miller may have literally stumbled into an acting career, but when she gets the attention of the cameras, they don’t want to follow anyone else.
The story is itself impressive, exploring the dichotomy of these two careers. It’s helped immeasurably by a wonderful musical score provided by Ludovic Bource. This soundtrack — which will keep viewers enthralled — helps steer the story from one scene to another with its gorgeous flow and enchanting melodies.
Many have compared this film to “Hugo” in terms of their mutual appreciation for the early days of cinema. Although I enjoyed and was impressed by the ode to filmmaking in “Hugo,” “The Artist” stands alone in crafting a story about film-making itself and the way in which major changes in the industry can affect culture.
With its elegance and beauty, "The Artist" is my second favorite movie of 2011. Despite the fact that I enjoyed “Midnight in Paris” a little bit more, I predict this film will resonate more with viewers in the years to come and could be the film to beat at the Academy Awards next year.
If you are willing to give a black and white silent film a chance (and you should be), you will not be disappointed by “The Artist.” In telling the story of an artful form of entertainment, this film becomes a piece of art itself.