In 1927 George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the biggest movie star in world. And along with being a big ol’ movie star comes a big ol’ ego. Just look at his house. Who has a double life sized portrait of themselves in their own house? Seriously? But change is coming for George Valentin because apparently audiences are preparing to hear what the actors on screen have to say, as the silent movie is on its way out. Will George be able to adapt? Uh… no he won’t, and George’s issues, of which there are many, is what this modern silent, black and white film ‘The Artist’ will be dealing with.
When we first tune in on George he’s at the premiere for his latest film, it’s a smashing success, he and his dog Uggie hams it up for his audience, while completely upstaging his female co-star (Missy Pyle). At the photo-op in front of the theater, again we catch George basking in the adoration of George when a young ingénue, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) stumbles forward from the crowd capturing the attention of the attending paparazzi and George. While it was simply a chance meeting resulting in a chance front page photo, Peppy is nothing if not opportunistic and will be setting about the business of making the most of this opportunity.
Back at the crib, the place where George has that double life size painting devoted to himself, things aren’t so great. He and his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) are clearly estranged from each other with the only real companionship that George has is that dog of his, and of course his loyal Driver Clifton (James Cromwell). But at least he has his movies. And he kind of has Peppy who has become a bit player at his studio since the two clearly have an attraction to each other, but circumstance will prevent them from going too far with this relationship.
Then one fateful day, Mr. Zimmer (John Goodman) shows George a demonstration of some crazy new technology in which we can actually hear the voices of the actors on screen. The most ridiculous thing he’s ever seen. It will never catch on. It’s not what the audiences want. George would not have done well as a fortune teller.
So convinced that talkies aren’t going anywhere, George leaves his studio to make his own movie. Correspondingly, Peppy has gone from a bit player and is on the verge of becoming a star, but George has never been far from her mind. It’s almost psychotic the way George stays on her mind.
History will tell us that George was wrong about the future of cinema. Talkies are where its at and as his marriage ends, so does his movie career, and his fall will not be a graceful one. And as sudden and as complete as is George’s descent, Peppy’s ascent is just as spectacular. Still… she thinks of Gorge often and if George Valentin is to survive in a world that’s become completely foreign to him in the span of less than five years, he’s going to have overcome his pride and be prepared to accept the help of the woman who has loved him, almost psychotically, since the first time she saw him. From where we sit this looks like a no brainer, but you don’t know George like we know George.
In between the time it has taken to me to watch Michel Hazanavicius’ film ‘The Artist’ and time it has taken me to sit down and write this little article, Hazanavancius would’ve won the Academy Award for Best Director, his film would’ve won the Academy Award for Best Picture and his star Jean Dujardin would’ve won for best actor. Not that I assign any intrinsic value to arbitrarily assigned awards given out by secret committees, but good for them because ‘The Artist’ is a fine film, and while I could give less than a damn about these awards, I know they are very important to the people competing for them.
When it was first being released and I had heard of the concept of a modern silent film, or a ‘quiet film’ as mom said I used call those old movies she would watch when I was a toddler, it felt more like a novelty, almost gimmicky in sense, and in a way it is as I don’t see another silent movie being made any time soon, but gimmicky or not it is still captivating. Without speaking a word, except for those two he uttered near the end, Dujardin has created a character in George Valentin that is as clear and as easily understood as any character I can remember in recent cinema history. We see George as self-centered, we see George as delusional, we see George as depressed and we see George when he is completely defeated and the characters progression towards these varying states is smooth and believable. Any accolades that Dujardin has received have certainly been earned, but still… Agent OSS:117… Now that’s genius.
The cinematography is lush and beautiful, the feel of the film is authentically dated, the performances supporting Dujardin are wonderful, and while Dujardin and Berenice Bejo may look unfamiliar to most American audiences, seeing long time character actors such as Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, James Cromwell and Malcolm McDowell, the shadows cast by the lines on their faces making them look even wiser and more seasoned in Black and White than they could even appear to be in Technicolor, was borderline emotional.
‘The Artist’ was a very good movie and something I would call almost call an ‘experience’. Is it the best movie of the year? Who knows? But I’m happy I was able to see it.