Review: The Artist

The Artist

The Artist

I’m going to be honest with you.

When I first saw the trailer for The Artist, I didn’t think it was a movie I’d want to pay to see. The concept of an entirely silent movie about the death of silent movies seemed a little too pretentiously cute for me, all the way to its title. “How very meta. We get it,” I thought to myself as I dismissed it from my “must-see” list. “This is obviously just trying to be different for the sake of being ‘artsy’ and drumming up awards-season hype.”

I remember reading an article prior to the film’s release that praised it for its originality due to its removal of dialogue. It discussed the challenges the movie presents for its actors by forcing them to understand and communicate with one another without having lines to memorize.

I was annoyed at the article because it made it seem like nobody has ever had the idea to write a script that placed an emphasis on the communicative tensions created between people when they don’t have the assistance of language. Obviously this journalist had never seen Love Actually, The Little Mermaid or the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode, “Hush,” to cite just a few examples where this idea had been explored on screen before. In my mind, The Artist was just another entry on an already long-running list.

But damn was I wrong.

The Artist doesn’t only challenge its actors. Part of what makes it so brilliant is the degree to which it challenges its audience. Can we as moviegoers, who are used to constant explosions of color and sound, sit through–let alone enjoy–a 100-minute black and white movie sans the cushions of our expected storytelling tools? After all, our basis for comparison has evolved quite a bit since the time of silent cinema. Mainly in that we now have one.

The answer is “Yes we can.” Just like Obama called it.

The Artist follows the story of the sinking career and life of George Valentin (a captivating Jean Dujardin), a megastar in the silent movie business whose star loses all its shine with the injection of sound into film. Starring in these “talkies,” as they are dubbed, is Peppy Miller (an engrossing Bérénice Bejo), an up-and-coming actress who gets her start as a dancer on the set of one of Valentin’s films.

Like a cause-and-effect reaction, Peppy’s name inches closer to the headlining marquee spot while George’s slips off the credits of anything Hollywood is churning out. Especially after the stock market crashes in 1929 and production on all silent films meets its abrupt end. So how do these two physical embodiments of the “old” vs. the “new” feel about one another? Romantically invested, of course.

Combining equal parts comedy, drama and romance, The Artist packs in a storyline so solid that the audience forgets that they usually rely on alternative methods of storytelling to remain engrossed. It’s a film that intrigues you with its novelty, hooks you with its honesty and turns unforgettable with its majesty.

Accompanied by Michel Hazanavicius’ masterful direction and Ludovic Bource’s beautiful score, The Artist is not just a uniquely crafted commentary on the anxieties that loom with the emergence of new technology. Sculpted from a nostalgic lens, it’s a gorgeous and intricately layered homage to cinema. I’d try to describe for you the feeling of warmth seeing this movie produced in me, but alas, I have no words.

The Artist is playing in select theaters now.

The Artist

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.