Jean Dujardin and Bénérice Bejo are receiving high praise for their performance

Film Review

Silence proves golden for The Artist

Funny, moving homage to the movies of yesterday uses sound to great effect

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The Artist is a film that pushes the viewer to reconsider the modern movie by returning to the film industry’s roots – the silent movie.

French director and screenwriter, Michel Hazanavicius, penned the movie as a love letter to old Hollywood, the stars that were and the movies they made.

Set in the late 1920s, Hazanavicius uses the relationship between a silent movie star, George Valentin played by Jean Dujardin, and an up-and-coming starlet, Peppy Miller played by Bénérice Bejo.

Starting as an extra in one of George’s movies, Peppy starts her rise to fame, eventually becoming a star of her own in the new talking movies or “talkies.”

If you want to know more about the movie, it is best to do what the screenwriter intended you do, watch it, and not read words or analyse quotes.

For that matter, it is interesting to know the actors, while appearing to speak, rarely did so on set and what they are seen mouthing was unscripted. Instead, Hazanavicius would play music and ensure actors focused on the emotions they were portraying in accordance with the music at the time.

The film works hard to pay homage to the films of yesteryear by being converted into black and white, accompanied by a lively score and screened in a different size than we have grown accustomed to.

Filming the movie with modern black and white film would not have provided the appropriate graininess on film, so it was shot in colour to then be converted during postproduction.

Hazanavicius also uses lighting and lens filters not just to round out the throwback-era look, but also to accompany the mood of the movie. This effect is most noticeable as the whites on screen turn to darker shades of grey during Valentin’s fall from grace as he copes with his fading stardom. 

Proper sound is only used once during the movie to a great effect, allowing the viewer to see sound in simplest form. Girls laughing, dropping a comb, a dog bark can be heard for less than five minutes as Valentin begins to feel threatened by the new talking movies. The sounds are heard one at a time and not overlapping over each other.

This simple presentation allows the audience to truly appreciate those sounds and realize their impact on the moviemaking process. Fear not though, the movie does not turn into an audio version of Pleasantville.

All the actors do a marvellous job and you quickly forget they are not speaking as their emotive selves convey all the information you need. 

Another pleasant surprise is the well-trained Jack Russell terrier, Uggie. The chemistry between the dog and Valentin is a great addition to the movie and makes you wonder if there are awards for animal actors, and there are. Uggie joins Dug from Up in being presented with the Palm Dog award at Cannes last year.

Albeit cute, Uggie still doesn’t manage to steal the spotlight from the two leads who are up for best actor and best supporting actress at the Academy awards later this month.

Dujardin has already picked up the best actor award at Cannes and the Golden Globes. This month will be busy for both actors as they are also nominated at the BAFTA’s, France’s version of the Oscars – the César awards and the Academy Awards.

Dujardin is only the fourth Frenchman nominated for best actor at the Oscars and should he win, he would be the first to do so.

The movie is up for another eight Oscars, making a total of ten, including best picture and best original screenplay. 

The movie is a must see and one you can actually see with that family member who thinks their run-on commentary is better than the actual script. Just make sure you don’t have to run to the washroom or for more popcorn as you can miss a lot in 5 minutes.

For those who loved the movie or Dujardin, make sure to check out the French comedy OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies and its sequel Lost in Rio.

Penned by the same screenwriter and staring Dujardin as the bumbling super-agent, the movies show the French really do have a great sense of humour and you shouldn’t wait for Hollywood to bastardise them much like it did for the Visitors, Three Men and a Baby, and Dinner for Schmucks.

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