Sometimes the amount of hype surrounding a film can work negatively for its audiences. Sometimes it is better to manage expectations, and reveal less throughout the distributor's marketing campaign. However, The Artist, whose campaign has been relentlessly pushed by the notorious Weinstein brothers, gathered the most momentum in the awards season and doesn't seem to be stopping any time soon.
The Artist follows the story of a flamboyant and glamorous actor in the silent film era, whose career and personal life comes crashing down with Hollywood's transition into the 'talkies'. George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin) is an irresistible and charming star on the ascend. When his Weinstein equivalent, played by John Goodman, announces that the silent film is a dying art, he nonchalantly tells Valentin that his career is dying alongside it. In the meantime, Valentin's co-star Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo), whom he himself 'discovered', becomes the new shiny starlet of his now former producer. And yet the misery doesn't end there. When the chips are down, everyone around Valentin abandons him (safe for a select few, including the charmer of a canine, Uggie), and as his character faces the worst downfall, the truths about his shallow relationships and friendships shine through.
The story of The Artist is one we have seen before, but it is told and crafted in such a beautiful way. Not because of the novelty of the imagery or the fact that it is silent; I think it truly is a standalone film despite that. Although it is rooted in the Singing in the Rain's classical Hollywood era, it is made contemporary in its alternative, artsy aesthetics, as well as the storyline relating to talent and Hollywood producers, or the old saying "in with the new," which holds true to this day. Let's not forget that Hollywood talent is regurgitated, as easily as it is forgotten, all the time.
The Artist makes me want to shimmy in a 1930's flapper dress. But it doesn't just work as the ultimate vehicle of nostalgia (not just for film buffs, but anyone who loves films and isn't ignorant enough to walk out of a movie theatre because the film is silent -- yeah, I'm talking to you liverpudlians!) To say it was adorable would be undermining it's brilliance; no, it is in fact endearing, lovely, and genius. And it does this in good measure; it is not overstated, and definitely not simple.
Technically, the film's sound editing and screenplay are brilliant. The scenes in which sound is integrated into the film are extremely clever, and the score perfectly reflects the storyline. Jean Dujardin's perfomance as the film's star is a flawless interpretation of the self-indulgent and proud celebrity. Jean is charming and keeps our eyes glued to the screen, despite the fact that all our other senses are thrown off by this very different viewing experience. As his supporting actress, Bérénice Bejo brilliantly plays the cooky yet ambitious and charismatic rival and friend, but unfortunately lost out to Octavia Spencer in the race for Best Supporting Actress. It has to be said that Michel Hazanavicius had a monster of a task ahead of him, in that he had to guide an ensemble cast through a screenplay of just gestures and facial expressions; however the endless and well-deserved praise he has received has no doubt made up for this.
Whilst watching, I found myself smiling gleefully at the screen. I felt like I was in the Nickelodeon era, where films were far and few in between, and a nickel would grant people the rare chance of attending a screening and escaping everyday life. As it drew to an end, a weird sensation came through me, and I felt moved simply because of how much I enjoyed myself. I would hands-down recommend this to anyone.
(P.S.) On the issue of Best Picture, my second choice would have had to be the Tree Of Life, as both films explore the potential of stunning visual imagery in narrating a story. The latter is absolutely beautiful and reflects on philosophical meanings in life. It is, however, borderline pretentious in that it believes it has the power to open this can of worms of "what is life about?," "why do we pray to God?", and "if He exists, then why are lives taken?," but leaves all these questions looming in the air, with fascinating imagery to keep our minds preoccupied in the meantime. I can appreciate both critical points of view, and realise that there are probably as many people who loved the film, as there are people who hated it. Maybe this is part of the appeal for The Artist; it can be watched and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age or background.