SPOILER ALERT: If you have managed to hear NO information about The Artist, and would like to see the movie with unawareness intact, stop reading now.
If you already know the “thing” but don’t want the plot spoiled, don’t worry. I won’t reveal any secrets.
I was recommended to see The Artist by Auntie Em, and she refused to tell me anything about it. I hadn’t even seen a poster.
So it wasn’t until moments before the lights went down that I found out from Skye (by accident) that there’s no talking. Wha??
‘Tis true. It’s done like a silent film, because it’s about the demise of the silent film. It’s black-and-white, it’s got grandiose oldey-timey opening credits, and no sound but the music. Occasionally, there is a full-frame caption to highlight an important bit of dialogue – but most of it, we must simply glean.
So, once you get over the surprise (if you were suprised) of the gimmick, you can settle in. It’s a fun movie. And you do (sort of) forget about the lack of sound after a while.
- I liked Jean Dujardin as George Valentin. It’s clear from the start that, as a character, he’s pretty high on himself – as one would imagine. But you can see how the ladies get all in a tizzy over him: he’s got the slick, dashing 1927 look that’s perfect in a tux, and he’s got a great smile – which, I figured out, is powered mostly by his wildly charismatic and empathetic eyebrows. You just have to see them. (No, they don’t fit with my eyebrow fetish – they’re just charming.)
- Bérénice Bejo also does a good job as Peppy Miller. I believed her as a silly, ambitious, rather annoying upstart; I also believed her as a deeply sincere, caring woman.
- The only thing I didn’t like about her performance: her dancing. Enthusiastic, but NOT graceful. Sorry.
- Another thing you forget during the course of the movie: nationality – the stars are French. A name doesn’t get much more French than Jean Dujardin – it’s right in the opening credits – but the actor looks so Hollywood, and doesn’t sound like anything, so you imagine him sounding like Clark Gable.
- If you find yourself lipreading (and you will – some of the jokes are in there) and realize you’re confused, not to worry. Skye said she’d heard they didn’t always bother to say their lines in English, since no-one would be hearing them. Those words do not look the same in French.
- Dujardin and Bejo dominate the movie, of course, but the supporting actors were top-notch, too: James Cromwell as Valentin’s chauffeur, Clifton (loved him!), and John Goodman as the Director.
- And that little dog did a super job, too (despite a neurological disorder that will apparently force his retirement after the Oscars, poor thing. His name is Uggie).
- I liked the way the movie didn’t break the “fourth wall”, but did knock on it a few times.
- Methinks it probably took more work than we spectators realize to create that “silent film look” – since I can’t even put my finger quite on what that look is. I just know that somehow, without resorting to the grainy film or choppy frames that actually characterized 1920s films, director Michel Hazanavicius and his team managed to reach back and make us feel the era. Costumes, sets, music, naturally – but also body language and facial expressions, in a way I can’t describe.
- If the plot line reminds you of Singin’ in the Rain, it should. It’s not quite as lighthearted, and the focus is not quite the same, but there are some definite nods. (I noticed in particular Cosmo’s rubber-nose moment in the first ten minutes.)
- The story does make you wonder about that transition from silent films to talkies. Did it really happen in a blink, where people were immediately dissatisfied with the old way? How many actors got stubborn and were left behind? Or how many just couldn’t pull off vocal acting?
- For that matter, how many actors of today could have pulled off these roles, not getting to use their voices? Bet it’s harder than it looks.
- My only actual criticism would be that I found there were a few slowish parts. They seemed to be moments where I was maybe supposed to be imagining an inner monologue, but didn’t feel the need for quite so much time.
- The Artist is up – even favoured – for a Best Picture Oscar. I wonder if people closely associated with the film industry (e.g. the Academy) are more moved by this particular subject matter than your average moviegoer. True, it’s original, interesting, well-acted, memorable… but I didn’t find it epic. I didn’t come out of there going, “That was awesome!!” (which I did, for the record, with winners such as The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Chicago, Shakespeare in Love, and Titanic). I always want the Best Picture to be EPIC.
That being said… I still sum up by saying go see it. It’s a cinematic experience quite out of the ordinary.
And now… to find a Jean Dujardin film where I can hear him speaking, preferably in French. Yum.