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At the Movies: ‘The Artist’ shows that the story still matters in this era of visual effects

Posted: Friday, Feb 3rd, 2012




We live in a very technologically focused era of filmmaking. Between cutting-edge special effects and gimmicks, such as the 3D craze, it seems what is being offered visually often takes precedence over story concerns.

That’s what makes “The Artist” such a gift. It’s a daring experiment that proves that story, performance, and love of film is just as vibrant and important today as it ever was. It is a subtle, old-fashioned work of art during a time when the modern trappings of filmmaking seem to reign supreme.

It’s a black-and-white silent film that dares to believe that a beautiful story can make a bigger impact on the hearts and minds of the audience than any flashy visual style ever could. And the beautiful part of that dare is that it’s true.

“The Artist” begins in 1927, focusing on silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a man whose talent and charm have him at the top of his game. Soon, he crosses paths with Peppy Miller (Bernice Bejo). She’s a young woman hoping to see her star rise. In her, George sees a piece of himself.

Over the next five years, the film traces the parallel paths that George and Peppy take. As the silent film era comes to an end and the stock market crashes, leaving the United States economy in ruins, George sees his personal fortunes fade. He becomes a glorious relic of a forgotten era.

Peppy, meanwhile, spins her talent into a vibrant career. She’s a woman of incredible skill, and she plies that skill toward building her own brand. Both travel along their paths until a set of circumstances bring them together again in an unexpected, and hauntingly beautiful way.

This is one of the most lauded films of 2011, and for good reason. “The Artist” is artful, whimsical, and daring. It is a black-and-white silent film about a silent film star coming to grips with the end of the silent film era. In a day and age where studios are intent on pushing forward with 3D and special effects technology, this film is a throwback to a simpler era when a film was defined by its story and performances. Both are first-rate in this film.

And if it took a silent film to introduce U.S. audiences to the talents of Dujardin and Bejo — French film stars — then keep them coming. Both are fantastic in difficult roles that take you back to a different era of filmmaking and storytelling.

Writer/director Michael Hazanavicius clearly had a vision for this film, and he brings that vision to life in a stunning way. He not only crafts a beautiful story, but he dedicates himself to capturing the style and vision of silent films. From the title cards, to the score, to the awkward way the film is colored during different sequences, this film is a celebration of cinematic history. Like the character of George Valentin, Hazanavicius seems intent on celebrating a cinematic style that has been largely forgotten.

The other supporting actors — chiefly John Goodman and James Cromwell — do a nice job in their roles too. The film also features one of the most engaging and entertaining dog performances in recent memory. In fact, the dog is so good he should get third billing for the film.

This is a movie that mixes humor and pathos, romance and isolation, music and dancing in a way no other film has in quite some time. I don’t have a lot experience with silent films — having seen clips of Charlie Chaplin films and all of “Birth of a Nation” as a frame of reference — but “The Artist” is a film that celebrates the era, celebrates the artists, and celebrates talent in an era where style has largely taken the place of substance.

And the rousing romance of the film, as well as the inspired closing sequence, are breathtaking and brilliant. The film received a gaggle of Academy Award nominations — including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress — and it was deserving of them all. “The Artist” is one of the rare true gems in motion pictures, for this year or any year.

“The Artist” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.











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