The Artist (2011)

There’s a certain poetry in the fact that a black and white silent film – which features nary a full sentence of audible dialogue – has been eliciting hollers and hooplas of delight the world over. Because that’s exactly what The Artist, a rare and exquisite production, has been receiving. Not because it pushes boundaries or breaks any rules, but because it’s an opportune reminder of just what filmmaking is all about.

Yes, The Artist is a silent movie. And yes, it’s in black and white. But in this era of overblown CGI and audience-baiting 3D, it is the perfect antidote to the technology-gone-wild filmmaking that has taken modern cinema hostage. With his sweet, even-tempered ode to classic picture crafting, director Michel Hazanavicius has proven that while James Cameron and ilk are championing in-yer-face 3D thrills, there’s nothing better than a simple story told well.

And boy does The Artist tell it well. Dipping into timeless themes that extend beyond its 1920s setting, The Artist stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a silent movie actor who finds that the advent of ‘talkies’ means he’ll either have to change with the times or get swallowed up by the onset of flash new technology. Meanwhile, bright young thing Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is just breaking into the biz, and finds herself swept into the movie industry as its breakout pin-up – not least thanks to a fateful encounter with Valentin.

It’s not hard to sympathise with George. In The Artist’s opening moments, a panic not dissimilar to George’s mistrust of ‘talkies’ sets in. “What’s this?” an inner voice whimpers. “An entire film with barely a single line of dialogue, nor a solitary explosion of diagetic sound?” Such fears are quickly quelled, though, in the presence of director Hazanavicius’s confident moviemaking. Brisk, flirty and hilarious, The Artist is a breath of fresh air in an arena increasingly crowded out by big budget brutes.

Why the denial of a sound five stars? Well, while The Artist garners giggles and well-earned affection in its opening two acts, its third suffers through unmistakable slumps. Early scenes are playful and buoyant, but as the comedy dissolves into noirish drama, The Artist stretches itself a fraction too thinly. Meanwhile, a final scene development works thematically (just watch those changes roll in), but fails to achieve the undying classic status it’s clearly reaching for.

In this era of technology gone mad, though, The Artist is a joyful, rousing reminder that not everything on the big screen need have cost the same as Madonna’s latest 50 acre pad. Exhilarating and super-smart, The Artist is quite possibly the film of the year. And that’s really saying something. 4/5