Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) falls in love with the silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). Things change when Peppy becomes a famous actor while George’s career goes downhill with the introduction of talkies.
The Artist is one of the odder and more forgotten movies to win Best Picture in recent years. It’s been known as the black and white silent movie that won best film, but that’s kind of it. The Artist was actually the first silent film I watched (currently the only one I’ve seen), it was some years ago, and I wanted to rewatch it to be sure about how I felt about it. I still liked the movie almost as much as when I first saw it, but I began to notice some flaws on a second viewing.
The Artist is yet another one of those “love letter to Hollywood” movies. In this case, it is about the transition from silent films to ‘talky’ movies. While it’s not the first time that a movie has been made about this period, it’s not a bad idea, and in fact going the approach of actually being a silent film instead of only tributing them definitely made it stand out more. With this being a silent movie, much of the storytelling is visual, and have dialogue cards during speaking parts, although to their credit actually have some restraint when it comes to using the cards and don’t have them every time people talk. The movie has its slower and drawn out sections as expected, this being a silent movie and all. Now for all the praise I have for the movie, unfortunately I can’t say that it’s better than just decent. Ultimately when I think back to this movie, I remember the direction, the style and the visuals much more so than the story or characters. Now I’m not going to hold too much against the movie for not being something its not, but I was hoping for slightly more depth than what we got here. If you strip away all the silent movie aspects with the storytelling, you find that at its core, it is a conventional and familiar story about times changing in Hollywood. It definitely romanticises the era, and while that’s not inherently bad, I feel like if it was on the slightly more realistic side of things it might’ve stood out more. Now I should say that at this point that being a silent movie isn’t used as a gimmick, there was clearly a lot of love and passion put into this film. I just feel it could’ve gone further and been a little better. I will also say that some of the novelty does wear off on a repeat viewing, I still liked it quite a bit though.
The cast are good on their parts. You don’t get to hear their voices, so like silent film stars pre 1930s, they had to convey a lot through exaggerated body language and facial expressions (while accompanied with subtitle cards), and they did that well. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are both great in the lead roles, and share quite a lot of great chemistry together. There’s a number of supporting actors like John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller who do well in their roles.
This is the only film I’ve seen from Michel Hazanavicius, but he’s directed this quite well. With this being a silent movie, there was a lot of attention to detail to get the look and feel of everything just right. It’s black and white and used the 4:3 screen ratio typically used in the silent era, as expected, and it’s overall a stunning looking movie. The production design and the costumes match the 20s and 30s era effectively. Sound (and the lack of it) plays a huge part in this movie, as you would expect. It’s a silent movie about silent movies, and it tributes them rather nicely overall. There’s a standout scene where Jean Dujardin’s character has a nightmare where there are audible sounds that he and the audience can hear (in contrast to the lack of audible sound in the rest of the movie) but his voice can’t be heard at all. If anything I wish the rest of the movie had that level of creativity and level of experimental factor all the way through the movie instead of it being ultimately a silent movie about silent movies (nothing bad about that though). The musical score composed by Ludovic Bource is great, it was very key to making much of the film working as well as it did
The Artist is an interesting experiment of a movie for sure, and there are undeniably a lot of great things, from the direction to the acting. However it unfortunately doesn’t leave that much of an impact beyond that, especially with its unfortunately shallow story, and looking at it on the whole, it feels a little empty. With that said, I still think it’s a pretty good movie. If you’ve never seen a silent movie but want a gateway to them, then The Artist may be what you are looking for. Despite its issues, I do think it’s worth checking out at some point.