BY STEVIE MARTIN
It may be silent, it may be black and white and you may not have heard of the leads, but don’t leave this fantastically original offering from frenchman Michel Hazanavicius to the artsy types. Impressing at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, this is a real triumph of film-making. Bursting with gags and intricate detail, Hazanavicius has reinvigorated a long-dead genre without resorting to parody.
Jean Dujardin is George Valentin, a silent film actor doomed by the advent of the talkies, watching his former co-star, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) shoot to fame while he rapidly falls by the wayside. Accelerating in opposite directions, their behind-the-scenes chemistry can never amount to anything while his sizeable pride takes a battering.
It’s a simple, straightforward story wrapped up in a simpler format – that of a silent film – while simultaneously managing to be sophisticated and unflinchingly brave in its approach.
Dujardin is spot on as the charming and self-obsessed Valentin, his trademark grin slickly demonstrating the fleeting importance of looks in a world without words, faltering as his silent silver screen crumbles around him. Bejo is compelling as the rising starlet, intuitive and sensitive to what’s happening to the man she could, potentially, fall in love with. Support comes from the Americans, with great turns from a surly, cigar smoking John Goodman as the director, and James Cromwell as Valentin’s loyal chaffeur.
With every scene set to a continual, swelling orchestral score, Hazanavicius lovingly breathes new life into the genre, both celebrating and emulating a forgotten era with every sight-gag and perfectly pitched pastiche. This is an affair not just between two people, but a daring French director and the medium of film. Bold, beautiful and insanely inventive, The Artist is a triumph in every sense.