With the 2012 Oscars coming up at the end of February, Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is the one film I hope, and expect, to take home the biggest awards: Best Director, Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score – this film deserves recognition for every brilliant aspect.
The film’s story explores Hollywood’s transition from the age of silent pictures to talkies. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, looking like a Clark Gable or Errol Flynn, and takes the audience from the height of Valentin’s extraordinary silent-film career into its inevitable and troublesome lull, exploring the personal trauma it wreaks before arriving, re-born, at the other end. Bérénice Bejo plays Peppy Miller, a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Clara Bow, displaying a young talent flourishing during an exciting era of cinematic history, stealing the heart and, momentarily, the career of Valentin.
What is extraordinary about Dujardin and Bejo, aside from their captivating and palpable chemistry, is their complete mastery of dramatic expression. For these two talents, sound is not needed to communicate powerful emotion or enrapture the audience in scenes of great comedy and tragedy. What most filled me with joy and awe is Hazanavicius’ remarkable prowess in playing with both form and subject matter. Valentin is trapped within the very medium that structures the film: one scene has him crying out in anguish, yet emitting no sound, in response to the infiltration of sound into his silent universe (a clever and humorously postmodern shock). Another scene, using the self-conscious absence of sound to create comedy, has Valentin attempting suicide by placing a revolver into his mouth – after a tense, almost chilling, emotional build-up the film jump shots to the written declaration, ‘BANG!’. The next shot shows Miller’s car crashed into a tree.
Each actor, and every scene, is furnished with a component that stands out on its own merits too – the score. It is exceedingly difficult to strain against the emotional trajectory that The Artist wants to take you through when every stride and flourish is blessed with such poignant and delightful melodies. The score compliments and reinforces every part of this wonderful story, spilling out and begging to be a background to our own reality.
The Artist is simple storytelling at its very best, infused with modern spices, and has something for everyone – it should be compulsory viewing for any lover of modern and classic cinema and will definitely give you something to talk about.