The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011): France, Belgium

Reviewed by Angel Martinez. Viewed at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Who would have thought that one of the biggest movies of 2011 would have came in the form of a silent film? This year, The Artist, has garnered 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score. French director, Michel Hazanavicus pays a loving tribute to a young Hollywood in transition from silent film to sound, recalling the films of Douglas Fairbanks in the process, and captures an era that is now gone but still remembered.

The year is 1927, and George Valentine played by Jean Dujardin is at the peak of his career. His latest film has the movie theater completely packed and the audience can’t help but go wild when Valentine walks out on stage with his dog. He flirts with them and breathes in all the attention and adoration they have for the biggest movie star around. After this incredibly successful show, as he is walking out of the theatre, there are adoring fans everywhere yelling his name and a wall of flashing bulbs going off, but a young woman finds herself on the red carpet and slightly falls on him. The crowd goes silent, and Valentine’s true personality now comes forth, he laughs. Soon, the whole crowd ensues in laughter including this fan and aspiring actress by the name of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). The photographers start to gather around them now, and she jokingly kisses Valentine. The next day, they both make the front page. Attempting to climb up the Hollywood ladder, she gets a break by landing being a dancer in a film that Valentine is, but almost loses this job when the producer recognizes her from the front page photograph taken the day before. As she starts to walk away with a frown in her face, Valentine comes to the rescue making the producer reconsider. In that instance, he both saves her career and opens the door for her, propelling her with additional help such as giving her a fake mole so she has a unique appearance. Years pass, and Valentine now finds himself without a job and no one wanting him anymore, all the adoration and love he once had is now long gone. As films with sound flourish, he watches Peppy Miller rise to where he once was while his life continues to spiral downward.

To me, The Artist’s strength comes forth from how classic all the elements in the movie are. Jean Dujardin’s face and smile alone exemplifies this and is unlike the faces of modern actors that we see today. Everything from the soundtrack, costumes, actors, to the story, has a memorable quality that retains in your brain. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and had a great pleasure in seeing it.

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