By Victoria Looseleaf
Before we get out of Dodge to ring in the New Year, we simply must say a few words about The Artist, though forgive us for coming somewhat late to the game. (And no, we cannot pronounce the name of the director, Michel Hazanavicius, below, who also wrote the endearing script, but we plan on learning how soon.) With six Golden Globe nominations to its credit, The Artist should fare well at the January 15 ceremony, especially as hosted by our fave bad boy of yucks, Ricky Gervais (click here for our coverage on that).
And speaking of awards, we are willing to stake our good name on this: The Artist, a magical valentine to the movies, mainly the silent screen era and the fickleness of fame, will win the Oscar for best picture. Why? Because it is glorious, inventive, heart-tugging, delicious and basically flawless. Oh, yes: and the Academy voters are mostly old-school. We also can’t think of another picture we adored as much. (Yes, we loved Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life – click here to read about that – but the critics have been divided. David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method – click here for that – is on our Top Ten list for this year, but the flick never really caught fire. We do hear that Scorcese’s Hugo is terrific – and will report on that anon – but for us, The Artist is pure bliss. Finally, it has the Weinstein Brothers behind it.)
As for brothers, it’s no surprise that Hazanavicius is French, following in the footsteps of those film pioneers, the Lumière Brothers, Auguste and Louis. (It was the frères who held their first private screening of projected motion pictures in 1895, in Lyon – click here for our coverage of that fabulous city, including our take on the Lyon Danse Biennale, one of the great festivals of the world). So why is this French film that, for all intensive purposes, is silent and shot in sumptuous black and white (cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman), all the rage?
For one thing, the actors, Jean Dujardin as quintessential movie star George Valentin, and Bérénice Bejo (the director’s partner, btw, below), playing aspiring thespian Peppy Miller, are absolutely splendid, their compelling faces indelibly lighting up the screen. His pomaded hair and pencil-thin mustache; her doe eyes and open smile (her legs aren’t too shabby either), all add up to one big spectacular shebang.
We also care about these people: He, who won’t recognize the coming of talkies, remains mute and eventually falls on hard times; she, all young, modern and exuberant, ascends to celluloid heaven in the Star-Is-Born vein.
Then there’s the notion that Hazanavicius is paying canny tribute to other classic films, including Citizen Kane, with Singin’ In the Rain also evoked, and some funky dancing integral to this story.
In truth, the film is not entirely silent. Indeed, there is an ebullient score by Ludovic Bource, replete with a perfectly placed quote from Vertigo (Bernard Herrmann’s memorable score from the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, with James Stewart and Kim Novak, right). There are also witty moments when several key sounds are heard, all adding to the originality of this work.
Of course, we must mention Uggie, a thoroughly winning Jack Russell terrier (the precocious, albeit hyper breed, is also seen to great effect in Mike Mills’ The Beginners, another very good film with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, the latter a seeming lock for Best Supporting actor). And speaking of supporting players, The Artist features fine performances by James Cromwell as a chauffeur, Penelope Ann Miller as Valentin’s downer of a wife and a pitch-perfect John Goodman in the role of blowhard studio head.
Much as Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is a delightful feel-good affair that we are also passionate about (and which will, no doubt, get well-deserved Oscar nods), The Artist makes something new from something old, breathing fresh life into our cynical high-tech digitized existences, all the while giving nostalgia a new twist and restoring our faith in films. The true artist here is Michel Hazanavicius: We salute you, monsieur.