’Artist’ reminds viewer of forgotten pleasures
By Kwaak Je-yup
People watch movies at a theater for the sake of a large screen ― despite the grave nuisance of fellow watchers chatting away in the most inappropriate moments.
At the screening of Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist,” on the contrary, the audience is transported back to the days when the company of viewers enriched the movie-going experience.
On top of a well-crafted script, excellent acting and masterful direction, this communal experience makes a compelling reason to go watch this immensely enjoyable film, ignoring any preconceived notions against black-and-white silent features.
Since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, all the humanly possible words of praise ― in many different languages ― have been dedicated to this work; none of them need repeating. Even the wave of criticism, which was especially pointed towards the borrowed soundtrack from the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Vertigo,” is also an old story. For the viewers quite removed from the film world’s creme de la creme on the French Riviera, all that brouhaha is irrelevant.
The lasting and powerful memory from the screening was instead the people’s audible reactions that contributed in unexpected ways.
To set this up, the film begins with the silent leading man of the 1920s Hollywood George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) proudly watching the audience's response to his latest spy-themed feature at its own showcase.
In a case of reality mimicking fiction, men and women surrounding this reporter laughed out loud, gasped, aww’ed, ooh’ed and ah’ed at Valentin’s exaggerated movements and most of all his adorable canine sidekick Uggie.
In this way, both the on- and off-screen audiences were in unison, with the latter filling in the silence of the former.
Valentin’s stars soon fall with the coming of the “talkies." Meanwhile his avid fan and actress hopeful Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) rises to sound-era fame. The rest follows the fall and fall of Valentin and Miller’s efforts to support him with love and devotion.
Both actors have expressive faces that make them perfect fits for the leading roles.
Dujardin, whose work was limited to slapstick French comedy up to now, shines in every scene with just the right mix of charm and pathos.
Bejo, whose character receives less development than her co-star’s, has the magnetism to command the whole screen. Miller’s mischievous hug with her idol’s coat was one of her most moving moments.
Missi Pyle played Valentin’s disgruntled less-important female co-star Constance Gray brilliantly in the few minutes she had. She deserves much credit.
There is so little to fault in this magnificent movie, but the puzzling ending, however ― where Valentin speaks his first and last words ― almost destroys the magic beautifully sustained up to that point.
It is nonetheless a special experience not to be missed.
In theaters Feb. 16. Runs 100 minutes. Rated 12 and over. Distributed by Jinjin Pictures.
Three-and-a-half stars out of four.