Film review: THE ARTIST from Built for Speed

Following Hugo, The Artist is the Second film this Oscar season to revel in nostalgia for the silent movie era.  The Artist doesn’t just talk about silent film as a lost art, however, it is itself a silent film shot in black and white in the pre-war square film ratio with subtitled dialogue and virtually no on-screen sound except for the over the top, highly emotive score.

Like A Star is Born the film tells the (fictional) story of Georges Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a Clark Gable-style 20’s matinee idol who falls on hard times as the talkies take over while Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), the girl he discovered becomes a screen sensation.

After an upbeat opening, the film adopts a dark tone and even a Twilight Zone style sense of existential dread as the sound era threatens to destroy Valentin’s career.  The film’s pervasive silence also gives it some of the eeriness of Carnival of Souls.

It has to be said, though, that a large part of the film’s appeal is the novelty of its silent format.  There are emotionally powerful moments and its ode to lost cinema is often touching but without the silent gimmick I think this would have only been a moderately affecting drama.

The cast are all fine with Dujardin a standout as he shifts from cinema demi-god to virtual outcast.  It is important to note that although The Artist mimics the look of the silent era films, the acting is more contemporary and doesn’t involve the extravagant gestures and eye rolling typical of silent films.

Despite or perhaps because of its unusual qualities this film may not have universal appeal as some film-goers may find it difficult to warm to the silent format.  It should be a hit with cinephiles, though, as it celebrates and critiques the methods of silent cinema and the Hollywood machine that surrounded it.

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