Now here’s a movie that knows how to stand out in a crowd. Shot in black and white, The Artist salutes the era of silent movies by being one itself. Set in the late 1920s and early ’30s, it tells the familiar tale of a swashbuckling screen idol named George Valentin (think Douglas Fairbanks Sr.). A sweet egotist who bestrides Hollywood like a shallow colossus, George spots a talented extra, Peppy Miller, and helps kick-start her career. Almost overnight, the charming and buoyant Peppy becomes a star. And while she is young and adaptable enough to transition from silent film to “the talkies,” George is hostile to what he thinks is a fad. Bad idea.
Financially gutted by the Great Depression, on the outs with his studio, and dumped by his wife, George is reduced to pawning his tuxedo to get a few bucks to live on. Peppy, meanwhile, has become America’s Sweetheart . . . although she’s still in love with the ruined actor too proud to accept any help. Is a happy ending possible?
I am a bit skeptical of the intense admiration that Artist has evoked. The two leading actors are superb, and the movie itself is well shot, charming, whimsical, and wonderfully nostalgic. But if you are familiar with actual masterworks of the silent era — Murnau’s Sunrise, say, or Abel Gance’s Napoleon — this loving pastiche seems closer to the narratively simplistic movies that audiences shunned when those new-fangled talkies hit the screen. For a film that does a better job of saying “silents are golden” go see Hugo. M
The Artist ★★★½
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo
PG-13 – 100 minutes
Continues at the Odeon