'The Artist' (UK Release: 6 Jan '12) // Words: Saam Das
'The Artist' is a film almost entirely devoid of dialogue - a throwback to the silent era of cinema. Film critics have fallen over themselves in their praise of the latest offering from French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius. The film has received a dizzying twelve BAFTA nominations and ten Academy Award nominations, as well winning three Golden Globes. But is it quite the triumph that is has been portrayed as? I'm not so certain.
I am quite certain of the idiocy of some cinema-goers - who elected to request refunds upon discovering the film is largely silent. I'm not quite sure how they succeeded with such a request - if I went to a death metal gig and remarkably discovered that I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't have the audacity to ask for my money back. Indeed, a valid response to their request might have been a ban from the cinema.
The film itself contrasts the careers of aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) as the talkies emerge in early 1930s Hollywood. The stubborn Valentin struggles to adapt, instead relying on his waning silent film stardom, while Peppy's success ascends as the new era of sound emerges. Among this come delightful cameos from John Goodman, James Cromwell and the winner of the Palm Dog award at the 2011 Cannes Festival, Uggie.
'The Artist' looks stunning and the performances and direction are accomplished, all the more so considering the relative lack of explanatory intertitles, but it is the story which fails to excite me. Shrouded in clichés, albeit mashed up in a palatable manner, it comprises a predictable love story and an unsympathetic rise and fall. The accompanying score is as over-bearing as it is evocative - more of a distraction, and not a pleasant one, like Uggie.
Gimmick or otherwise, the true triumph of 'The Artist' is in celebrating a forgotten strand of cinema. The likes of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy are now unrecognisable to many youngsters. Perhaps 'The Artist' can rectify this, encouraging all generations to re-engage with a pivotal era in cinematic history. A loving tribute but one that is vehemently style over substance.
'The Artist' remains on limited release in UK cinemas.