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The Artist (The Weinstein Company, PG-13)

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film the-artist_75I, for one, want to see The Artist succeed; it is as good as you’ve heard.

 

film the-artist_500

You presumably know the hook of the season’s hottest movie, The Artist, right? The more interesting thing to consider at this point is how both The Weinstein Company and audiences are going to handle the film. Sure, it’s an Oscar hopeful (at the time of this writing, it’s considered the favorite to win Best Picture this year; I’d be happy if it did), but how exactly do you market a movie that is silent, black and white, and shot in the old 1.33:1 aspect ratio in 2011? Never mind that everyone who has seen it seems to love it; how are you going to get a lot of people to even see it in the first place? How wide can they reasonably open this movie? How successful can one logically assume it will get?

While I’m afraid to make any guesses, I, for one, want to see The Artist succeed; it’s as good as you’ve heard. Sure, it’s gimmicky and sure overall it’s little more than a trifle, but when it comes down to it, the film is an incredibly well carried off gimmick, and no better trifle has come down the pike in quite some time. The deal is that the film plays like the other side of Singin’ in the Rain’s coin: It’s the story of the film industry’s transition from silents to sound films, but this time told from the side of the silent film and not the sound film. Our main character is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent star obviously modeled on Rudolph Valentino (though sporting a Clark Gable mustache). Valentin is at the top of his game during the silent era (the film begins in 1927, the year of The Jazz Singer’s release) but resists to sound when the time comes, and quickly falls out of favor and fortune because of it. Meanwhile, a girl he discovered, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, who is fantastic), is able to make the transition much more smoothly, perhaps because she was just a fledgling during the last of the silent era. So while Valentin falls deeper and deeper into debt and depression, Miller rises to become one of the most popular actors of the talkies—and Valentin has to watch it all happen.

The Artist is clever and involving throughout (it should go down equally smoothly for those who are versed in silent films and those who aren’t). Rather pointedly, the film opens with a Valentin movie-within-the-movie where he’s being interrogated, which results in the first intertitle having Valentin say “I won’t talk! I won’t say a word!” Then his interrogators: “Speak!” Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has a seemingly endless supply of funny little tricks like this, allusions to real silent films, well-cast bit parts (including many American actors with great silent faces, like James Cromwell and John Goodman), and the like. Even more miraculously is that there are a number of dance sequences in The Artist, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. I’m sure I’m inviting people to laugh at me, but generally speaking, dance numbers in film just make me squirm—not because they’re boring or “girly” or whatever, but just because it usually makes me uncomfortable to watch people dance. But not here; it’s charming when Valentin and/or Miller do it.

The point is, if you want to see The Artist, do. You won’t regret it. And if you think you don’t want to see The Artist, you should rethink that position. | Pete Timmermann

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