Movie review: The Artist, silence is golden

February 28, 2012

By Miranda Foresman

Ever the skeptic, I questioned the critical hullabaloo when I heard about The Artist and all of its splendor. This weekend, courtesy of the Fair Oaks Theater in Arroyo Grande, I became a believer. The novelty of the antiquity of presenting a silent film in black and white is just so fitting for this Golden Age of Hollywood story.

Set across the late 1920s and early 1930s, The Artist follows the most famous silent film star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), as he struggles with the birth of the talkie. Happenstance puts him in the frame with an effervescent Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an aspiring actress with ambition to spare and a sizeable crush on Valentin. Young and impressionable, Valentin leaves his mark on the fetching extra. As he is married, their spark does not set the stage on fire, just yet.

As we watch the former leading man slide into despair, we get to see Peppy’s gradual rise to “It Girl” status in the new medium of talkies. The two occasionally cross paths, with my favorite scene being one such instance. While Valentin is trying to regain footing in Hollywood, he’s leaving an office and passes the very popular Peppy with two young men in tow. When he gestures to them, questioning, she responds (silently, of course) with “Toys.”

In that moment in the movie, I knew it didn’t matter that The Artist is in black and white or silent, it successfully portrays a breathtakingly simple human emotion with no fluff or thin pretense. Valentin is jealous, and Peppy is enjoying her youth and fame. It’s an impeccable moment. The acting could not have been more fitting.

Speaking of the talent, even in shades of gray, the cast of The Artist sparkles. Bérénice Bejo can’t help but charm you into giggles with her playful grin. Jean Dujardin embodies Clark Gable-like finesse with a little Cary Grant sense of mischief. John Goodman is just as funny silent as he is speaking, and James Cromwell feels like an old friend in just about every role I’ve seen him in. Of course, Uggie the dog makes Dujardin’s Valentin that much more affable. Who can dislike a silent Jack Russell Terrier?

Director Michel Hazanavicius (husband of the lovely Bérénice Bejo) manages to sweep the audience subtly into the world of Hollywoodland charm, abandoning modern techniques like zooming in and out for effect, focusing gently instead on the actors and their ever-important expressions. His title cards are few, letting the acting do the storytelling, by and large. The experience of watching a silent film is like relearning how to read people, paying attention to the slightest gesture. The Artist is truly a fine homage to a simpler time of movie-making.

Believe the hype, and catch The Artist, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture Sunday Night, while you can at the Fair Oaks Theater in Arroyo Grande or at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo this week.

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The use of color filters ( even in so-called black and white was intrigueing ).

The picture began with a blue filter, then as Valentin started to descend it went into a funky sepia. Close to hitting bottom, it went grey. Then, a little spark brought it back to sepia, grey again, and then blue.

I was also surprised at how good this movie is. I really enjoyed it & I thought the Jack Russell Terrier should have won an “award”…He was wonderful!