The Artist fills deep emotional holes
Starring Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo. Rated G. Opens Friday, December 9, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
This is a brilliant film that audiences love—and with good reason. On the other hand, it doesn’t have half the heart that people think it does. What passes for genuine feeling is really just more cleverness. Still, in a desert of cinematic stupidity, sly intelligence can fill even the deepest emotional hole.
The hero of this comic celebration of silent cinema is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a brashly physical movie star with the suave self-confidence of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Unfortunately for him, his career is peaking at the precise moment when the talkies are making their debut, an innovation that George initially pooh-poohs, unlike the aptly named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an ambitious ingénue whose name seems destined for neon lights. As for studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman), he’ll go with whatever flow makes the most money. So what’s next for our hero? Adaptation or alcoholic oblivion?
What is so extraordinary about this production is that it is, in almost every respect, like a real silent movie (and filmed in black-and-white). Even at the very end, when voices are finally heard, we are not transported to the “present” but to the set of a Mark Sandrich–style musical. The fictional studio is made to look like the Paramount of Sunset Boulevard, and the Los Angeles that we see is authentically ’tween-war. Even the pencil-thin mustaches and bobbed hair are perfect. This is more like a psalm than a pastiche.
Director Michel Hazanavicius and Dujardin both made their reputations with a series of films dealing with OSS 117, a derivative French spy who has, apparently, appeared in more novels than any character in literary history. Clearly, both men know how to play popular culture the way virtuosos know how to play violins.
Depth? Forget about it. But pleasure? There is no end.
Watch the trailer for The Artist.