I love going back in time and absorbing myself in a classic silent film, but it’s a rarity to get to see it on the big screen. The Artist, directed by Michael Hazanavicius, is the film on everyone’s radar, with its clever story (with no dialogue), acting (with no words) and gorgeous, gorgeous period costumes (with no colour).
The film follows George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a sexy silent film actor who can command the room with one twitch of his eyebrow. It’s the 1920s and Valentin is at the top of his game. Outside the premiere of his new film, A Russian Affair, a gorgeous young woman gets swept up into the red carpet papparazzi (yes, they had those back then), and she steals the spotlight with a kiss that makes front page news. The next day, the young woman, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) auditions as an extra on the set of Valentin’s next film. The producer, Al Zimmer (John Goodman) nearly kicks her off set, but Valentin remembers the mystery girl, and Miller slowly rises the ranks as an actress.
A couple years later, Valentin has a dream that everything has sound. It was a compelling sequence, with Valentin stuck in silence as the world around him comes to life with sound. His adorable dog barks, his phone rings, and a gaggle of girls giggle along, and he is unable to scream. He awakes from the dream, only to find out that Zimmer has cancelled all further production of silent films as the talkies take over.
Without an acting gig, Valentin decides to produce his own silent film out of his own pocket, but it opens the same day as Peppy Miller’s talkie, and his career is over. What follows is a downward spiral for an actor that once had it all without having to say a word.
Both Dujardin and Bejo give compelling performances. It’s amazing to see how expressive Dujardin is without saying a word, and his award for best actor at the Cannes Film Festival was well-deserved. There isn’t a male actor that I’ve seen so far this year that has delivered a comparable performance. There’s also a refinement present in this modern silent film, in comparison to the overplayed, melodramatic silent acting from the early 20th century. Bejo is captivating to watch on screen, and exudes French glamour down to the bone.
This film is a must-see for anyone. While the main descriptors of the film, “silent & black and white” might deter a modern audience, the humour, emotion and joy in this film exemplify what movies are really about- entertainment.