The Artist is about George Valentin, a famous silent actor in Hollywood during the late 1920s. His life crosses with the life of Peppy Miller, a young woman who finds her way in to the industry. Miller herself is a big fan of Valentin, and she has experienced working with him as well. However, things go out of hand when sound arrives in Hollywood. Valentin’s denial of the future of film with sound led to the disillusionment that he can still carry on without sound, leading to the fall of his career. Meanwhile, Miller finds herself slowly becoming Hollywood’s newest sweetheart.
What makes the film such a delightful film to watch is the fact that it looks real, and it feels real. The vision is complete, and I am left with awe with how meticulously detailed the film is. It has a completeness of vision that makes the film plausible and authentic. What probably is important is that the film did not look like a joke since the concept and treatment can easily fall under an unnecessarily outlandish gimmick. Luckily, the film has a heart for the audience to connect with it and a soul that makes watching the film such an involving experience.
Its intelligence crossovers as well to its screenplay that provides warmth, humor, and dimension to the story and its characters. The film is solid in its attempt to recreate a bygone era. Indeed, the film succeeds in an immersion to the world of Hollywood late-1920s, and I believe it is beyond the beautifully crafted cinematography that perfectly captures the milieu with care for detail and its intelligent play of monochrome, shadows, and light.
It is beyond the intricate production and costume design that manages to concretely build the world of the film. It is beyond the editing that very well determines the rhythm and sharpness of each scene. It is also even beyond the wonderful music that captures the essence of the emotional ride that George and Peppy experiences in the story,
It is due to the solidness of how the concept was delivered that makes the film full of impact. The control, the expertise, and the clarity is evident in every scene, creating a sense of truth that is really hard to shake off once you watch the film already. However, there is always a looming tendency for the story to simply follow the standards of actual melodramas of the silent era Hollywood. While the visual reference and appropriation of style works, it is more of how was the style essential that evokes ingenuity and nuance in every scene. There is no false note hit by the film; moreover, the said precision in the usage of film language that makes up for an excellent film experience.
As said above, the technical aspects are just a part of why the film works, but each element is maximized to full effect. The cinematography is indeed memorable. Choosing to film in black and white is already a given, but there is brilliance visible on how darkness is pitted against strong light or how shadows and silhouettes provide strong visual register onscreen. The fire scene itself is a demonstration of how cinematography heightens the emotional and psychological tension happening to George Valentin. All these shots are harmoniously weaved together by the smart editing that allows each cut to serve as narrative beats that play crucial in such a film whose nature depends a lot on the sequencing and timing of shots.
Pre-sound Hollywood could not have looked better, thanks to its production design and costume design. I think it must be noted that the visuals itself becomes crucial in the story as it is all about succumbing to the experience of George Valentin as a human being whose life is all about joyful ups and tragic downs. To work with it is the beautifully composed music whose melody becomes the perfect partner for the sumptuous visuals.
George Valentin and Peppy Miller, the soul and heart of the film, are impeccably played by Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, respectively, giving riveting performances.
Bejo’s Peppy Miller is a combination of uncompromising, steely, yet tender, lovable, and sincere. Bejo plays all of these with visible understanding of the role that makes her performance believable as a sturdy anchor to Dujardin’s George Valentin. Dujardin, on the other hand, delivers an all-time great performance as the falling silent movie star George Valentin. Simply put, he owned the role with conviction and soulfulness that it hurts everytime we see him getting emotionally bruised, helpless, or brought to his lowest. His George Valentin is a blend of the approachable warmth as an actor, the underlining pride as a star, the fall to shame and despair as a human being, and the electrifying emotional journey that he must go through the film. Dujardin’s George Valentin might be the strongest male performance of 2011.
To say that the film is an admirable throwback to the bygone era of Hollywood would be a huge understatement. The film is a glorious piece that provides an exhilarating film experience. It confronts the risk of filmmaking both as a technical medium through the use of silent film techniques and as a way to draw the line between a mere film stunt and an earnest exercise on film form and how to use it to a specific story. The film succeeds in so many levels that a rewatch of the film is something that I would do “with pleasure.”
For this, the film gets:
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