The Artist

January 27, 2012

in Movies

Film (2011)

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius

Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman, Film Editing: Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius, Original Music: Ludovic Bource

With Jean Dujardin (George Valentin), Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller), John Goodman (Al Zimmer), James Cromwell (Clifton)

Jean Dujardin as George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller in 'The Artist'

Jean Dujardin as George Valentin
Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller
in “The Artist”
Courtesy Studio 37 Orange

A delightful film based on a rudimentary premise, but executed deftly, with great charm and humor.

This is a simple, sweet, film, and daring in its venturing into voiceless, sentimentalized anachronism.

Who would dare to make a silent movie these days? Well, obviously, that’s the great question underlying this stimulating, interesting and entertaining work.

Though the surface story is quite simple – a May-September romance in the context of epic changes in the world of film, the semiological implications are deeper and funnier. When, for example, the hero, a silent film star, faces the onset of sound in film, he begins to hear sounds in his own environment, and the film artfully and subtly pulls it off.

Much in the film succeeds because of small touches like these. It reminds me of the Vermeer painting Girl With a Pearl Earring, which, with a small, focus of light engineers a magnificent world. Here, in The Artist, a beauty mark placed on Peppy Miller’s (Bérénice Bejo) face signifies something similar.

Johannes Vermeer, 'The Girl With a Pearl Earring' (1665)

Johannes Vermeer
“The Girl With a Pearl Earring” (1665)

The love story is simple and touching. An early moment of connection when the protagonists are dancing which is priceless; it is brilliantly subtle, but attenuated and compelling.

There are a lot of basic cinematic staples here: Georg Valentin’s (Jean Dujardin) smile, in his silent film salad days, is infectious; the cute dog, the devoted butler, the irate studio head (John Goodman) are classic, stock characters.

Nothing, however, seems hackneyed, and the whole enterprise goes well beyond kitsch in its cuteness. The whole thing comes off wonderfully well because of the addition of small, almost indiscernible, embellishments on a totally predictable framework. Those tiny touches, those pearl earrings, make this old-timey piece a great success.

Another pearl earring in this delightful, almost totally black and white, film was a brief moment of color. The scene was in a darkened room, so it was not obvious, but, again was done so delicately it made one stand back and wonder if it really had been there.

This issue of delicacy in the pulling off of this great trick, goes back, of course, to the rather hokey theme of its love story. What makes that story tick and what gives it life is the delicacy with which that early encounter takes place. It indicates that a set of penetrating glances, without the bombast of apparent passion, can sew the seeds of enormous commitment, devotion and passion.

In a moment of great challenge, Valentin grasps the footage that represents that encounter. Here, the sign language is clear: artistry, like love, involves holding to those subtly evoked moments as great treasures.

Even in the context of a traditional seeming landscape, those embellishments become the hubs around which great themes circle. Like miniature black holes, they do not appear as significant until one begins to see galaxies swirl around them.

– BADMan

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