Cancel anything and everything you might have planned this evening and go see The Artist. Michael Hazanavicius’ 1920s style silent movie is eliciting nothing but praise and joy everywhere. I knew as I sat down in the Curzon Chelsea that something special was about to happen. I was in for a treat.
Hazanavicius extensively studied the films of the Roaring Twenties to distill out the winning elements of the Silent Film. His efforts are evident. The Artist is a melodrama in which Silent Movie star George Valentin’s fortunes slowly change as the Talkies steal the Hollywood spotlight and bright young thing Peppy Miller – who gets her first taste of fame when snapped by the papers giving George a kiss outside one of his premiers – rises to stardom on this new wave of cinema.
The silent film – which may seem a bit of an acquired taste for some: where is all the sex/nudity/violence/CGI/SFX/3D?? – is as different an experience as ballet is from traditional theatre. Perhaps even more so. The lack of talking comes as wonderful relief. In its stead are music, good old acting and intertitles. The appearance of the latter reminded me of my six-day silence in India, where I would communicate only the most essential things by written messages. Likewise, the intertitles must be sparing, and were in this brilliant film.
Jean Dujardin plays the lead George Valentin, and it won him Best Actor at last year’s Cannes. He is more than perfect as the egocentric but loveable film star. He has all the required charm and debonair looks, with one of the best smiles you could wish for. We love him even though he fancies himself rotten and winks at his self-portrait as he passes it in the hall on his way to breakfast. Just as funny is his grumpy wife, who spends her days drawing devil’s horns on her husband’s face, which populate every film and society magazine. Hazanavicius’ wife Berenice Bejo is the doe-eyed Peppy and sports the classic features and slight figure that epitomises Twenties beauty.
The threat to silent films from talkies is emphasised by George starting as his glass hits the table and makes a sound. For a few moments one prays that the film does not become progressively more ‘talkative’ … but it doesn’t. Silent films need to be simple and therein lies their beauty. No wonder George had trouble accepting the inevitable progression to the new format.
I couldn’t help drawing parallels with Spielberg’s War Horse – two very different films. The concept of communicating without spoken words, the importance of a stellar score to carry emotion, classic Hollywood film-making and not to mention, some excellent animal performances. Little can compete with the horses in War Horse, but Uggie the Jack Russell is adorable and even saves the day when his master George accidentally sets fire to his house. War Horse and The Artist – and many more in the pipeline – have made 2012 a magical year for cinema already.
The Artist is fun and light hearted and oh so wonderful, and everything looks gorgeous and glamourous in Black and White. A film that is skillfully made and just heaven to watch – sometimes the best films out there don’t always give us pleasure in return: my personal film collection is a testament to this. The Artist manages to do both. I came out feeling like Audrey Hepburn while she sang I Could Have Danced All Night. The best cinematic experience you’re likely to have. More please, Michael.