55th BFI London Film Festival: The Artist review

When I first discovered that a new silent film was being made I knew instantly that I would adore it. Having grown up watching silent cinema, namely the works of Charlie Chaplin, I had become accustomed to the soundtrack replacing an actor’s voice. This is not the case for everybody though, so of course Michel Hazanavicius’ silent film, turned global phenomenon, may not be to everyone’s liking. What ‘the artist’ is ultimately, is a Hollywood love-story told the traditional way. In that way it is a breath of fresh air from everyday romantic films.

‘The Artist’ tells the story of silent film actor George Valentin, played by Jean DuJardin, and Peppy Miller, played by Berenice Bejo, a nobody who becomes a star thanks to talking films. We see their encounter, Valentin’s fall and Miller’s rise. We meet Valentin at the peak of his career. His double-act, finished off with trained dog Uggie, is famous throughout the world and it seems like nothing could bring them down. It is at this time that we come across Peppy, who accidently bumps into Valentin at a premiere and becomes the talk of the town. We continue to watch as the era of silent films comes to an end along with Valentin’s career and Miller becomes more and more successful in talking films. It is a heartfelt story filled with laughter and sadness, Hazanavicius balances them out perfectly in the film, making it a strongpoint. Another strength of the film is the soundtrack. Of course, in a silent film it is hard to ignore the soundtrack as it replaces the dialogue. However it should be noted that the work of Ludovic Bource compliments the film incredibly well and resembles the traditional classical music used in the films of the 1920s. There’s no doubt that the film will do well in the Oscars.

When I had seen the film I could tell that Jean Dujardin was perfect for silent cinema. It is clear from his extremely expressive face that he can exude the emotions necessary to capture his character. But the problem he may face, post the artist, is that people will compare his future roles to this one and this can also be said for Michel Hazanavicius . Furthermore, much like the Burton, Depp and Bonham-Carter trio, Dujardin is Hazanavicius’ leading man in most of his films while Bejo (who is his wife) plays the leading lady. So they may also have to deal with comparisons in those circumstances (much like Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe face whenever they make a film, even when it’s in no way related to Gladiator).

Hazanavicius achieves the traditional style necessary for silent cinema well in his film. Of course it is smoother and flows a lot better than its predecessors, but that is thanks to the advancement of technology. The film is a worthy adversary to the silent cinema and it can be argued, is a good way to prove that the film industry can differ from the norm. The Artist is definitely one of the best recent releases in cinema, it may even be the best to some. Personally, I feel that the film is brilliant, it made me laugh, it made me cry and it made me nostalgic, but I don’t think it was the best film of the year. It definitely deserves its critical acclaim, and it is without a doubt one of the finest films of the year, but it is not the best one.

Reviewed by Roxy Simons.

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