The Artist – Review
January 14, 2012 5 Comments
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius. Starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell
In a way “The Artits” is a real love letter to silent movies from the 20s and 30s and to cinema in general. Clearly French producer/director/writer/editor Michel Hazanavicius knows his background in silent films and he understand them well enough to be able to pull off not just something that it’s incredibly reverential to that time and that type of film-making but at the same time clever enough to be appreciated by a modern audience and critics alike.
Hazanavicius seems to have a real understanding of the visual medium and knows how to tell a simple and honest story without relying on cheap special effects or heavy exposition. This is a real return to basics. They say “they don’t make them like they used to anymore”. Well, in this case, it seems that somebody actually has just made it exactly like they used to.
There’s a naive sensibility throughout “The Artist” that’s both charming and slightly infectious and it’s hard not to fall for it.
There are moments of inspired genius at play too: the very first moment we realise that it is actually a silent film we are watching, and so we have to read the expression in the character’s face as opposed to listening to an applause from the audience in a cinema in order to understand the response to a film that’s just being screened. It is a slight shock at first, but it’s also very clever . There’s a wonderful dream sequence with that unexpected twist with a glass (You’ll know what I mean when you see it) and some genuinely sweet moments peppered throughout the film.
And of course all those movie references and in-jokes everywhere that only a real movie geek can spot. Some of them are more obvious than others, starting from the main character’s name Valentin, which is obviously a reference to silent movie star Valentino and his actual look which clearly reminds us of Fairbanks from the The Mark of Zorro (incidentally he is also shown watching extracts from it later in the film).
However while I understand and applause the film for its understanding and knowledge of the 20s and early 30s, for some reason I don’t quite feel the same way about all those other “references” from pretty much all sorts of decades. The story itself for example takes from both of Singing in the rain (about a silent movie star struggling with the advent of talkies) to the and A star is Born (about a movie star in decline), but there are echoes to those classic noir films from the 40s, from Citizen Kane itself (I’m referring to the breakfast montage sequence transported to the “Artist” to achieve the exact same effect) and classic from 50s from directors like Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock. Not to mention all those typical stock characters seen hundred of times in other movies (even the dog itself is lifted from the Thin Man).
It does make me wonder… When is an idea considered “non original” and when it’s a clever reference or an in-joke?
If this is a film about the silent era and the time between the 20s and 30s, why is it then referencing so many other later films? What is the point of using the soundtrack from Vertigo (a film made in 1958!!) for one of the final scenes? (In fact there’s been a controversy about this particular issue about the soundtrack of Vertigo).
I have to be honest with you, event though I know I might be very unpopular (everybody seems to love this film and it’s most likely going to be the big winner at the Oscar next February), and it’s maybe because I am so familiar with all the movies that came before and that “the Artist” is “borrowing” from , but once the novelty wore off, I found that the actual story itself quite simplistic and slightly unoriginal. And most important, did it really deserve to be 1 hour and 40 minutes long?
It all works the way you expect it to work, each character is exactly like you imagine they will be, and the ending is exactly like the poster advertises it to be. In the end I couldn’t help feeling that the “mute thing” was all just a big gimmick. And if we take that out the film, what are we left with? Actually very little indeed. A story we’ve seen a hundred times, predictable at best, with some slapstick humour not particularly funny (yes, amusing a couple of times, but not more than that), some cute moments (the many takes during the filming of the dance sequence being possibly the best), but not that moving or tragic and finally a dog doing the same pretending-to-be-dead joke 9 times (My friend Alec counted them, so I blame him if it’s not actually 9, but you get my point).
So while I admire its technique, its knowledge and those few clever and inspired moments, I couldn’t help feeling that there was not enough to fill a whole 100-minutes film (In fact if it wanted to pay a real tribute to the silent era of film-making it should have been a lot shorter like all those movies were).
Is this really the best film of the year? Does it really deserve to be the Oscar winner of 2012? Will it really sustain many repeated viewings like all those classics it’s constantly borrowing from. I guess only time will tell but I thought it actually had very little to tell.