The Artist is pure craftsmanship. And, as a silent movie made for a 2012 audience, it is also a pretty ballsy project. But what it isn’t, is memorable or thought-provoking. The Artist is one of those movies that sacrifices depth for mass appeal and tries to make up for it with a visual gimmick. Yup, that’s right. This is the silent movie version of Avatar.
Not that I’m trying to shit all over The Artist. Like I said, this is a movie of craftsmanship, and real credit to Director Michael Hazanavicius, who frankly has his work cut out. See all sound films work on the basis of how good their visual storytelling is, but where sight is lacking, good dialogue can often help share the load. The Artist by comparison is forced to rely solely on its looks. Luckily they’re up to the task, Hazanavicius obviously having the eye for symbols and sight-gags a project like this needs. Of these, my personal favourite was Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) hugging herself in George Valentin’s (Jean Dujardin) jacket, and simultaneously imagining herself in his arms: a perfectly executed sight.
I wish however that Hazanavicius was as good a writer as he is a director. Sadly, no. The plot in fact is massively conventional. George Valentin is the toast of the silent movie world. After a particularly successful screening, he collides with Peppy Miller, inadvertently thrusting her into the limelight, for which she gets a taste. The two fall for each other on the set of Valentin’s latest movie, but the good times don’t last. When Valentin’s studio decides to end silent movie production and head into the new realms of sound films, Valentin is cast out as the relic of a bygone age, with Peppy’s star rising to replace his. And at this point I am on tentahooks. I mean, love at first sight? Two people whom the fates have driven apart? Good gracious, how on earth is this going to end?
How you expect, is the answer. And I must again state, it’s not that you don’t have fun getting there. The story might lack any originality whatsoever, but it cracks along at a decent pace, and the ending proves really gripping. On top of this, The Artist also boasts multiple excellent performances. Both Bejo and Dujardin are brimming over with energy, and hit every comic beat with the timing of true professionals. John Goodman too is a fantastic studio boss, an imperious, cigar-chewing mass of a man, able to reduce a whole set to silence with a look. And there’s also Valentin’s devoted dog, which is adorable made flesh and the funniest thing in the whole film.
But though the performances are good, the characters aren’t. Valentin is the only one of them to be developed at all. He is revealed as a friendly, charming man, able to inspire loyalty in animal and man, but crippled by pride and overconfidence. He is your stereotypical protagonist: flawed enough to be interesting, but likeable enough that you want him to overcome those flaws. But such formulaic character design looks like the height of artistry when compared to that of Miller. She is cheery and in love with Valentin, and that’s all. We aren’t ever really told why she loves him. It seems at the beginning that maybe she is seduced by Valentin’s charm and glamour, but as she still feels attracted to him when their standing is reversed, that impression rings false. Honestly, I can’t remember when I last saw such an empty character get so much screen-time. Bella Swan has more going on than Peppy Miller.
So, to reiterate, The Artist is good fun for a watch. The acting is great, the animal is funny, it’s interesting to look at, and composer Ludovic Bource supplies the right tunes for the mood. But after the fact, the blandness of plot and character will let only the silence remain memorable. Honestly, I’ve seen much worse. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen much, much better.
The Artist Trailer 2011 HD Published via LongTail.tv