Cinema Review - The Artist
The Artist - Starring: Jean Dujardin, B�r�nice Bejo, John Goodman
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Running time: 100 minutes
On general release
When movie mogul Harvey Weinstein told his brother and business partner Bob that their studio should buy The Artist, he thought his sibling had gone crazy. A mostly silent, black-and-white French film starring no big names? Surely not? A nice collection of awards later – and more gongs surely to follow come Oscar time – and Harvey Weinstein looks like a genius. With its charming performances, clever storyline and inspired soundtrack, Michel Hazanavicius’s film is an utterly beguiling love letter to cinema.
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The opening scene sets the tone as we are transported back to the silent movie days of the late 1920s. The biggest star in Hollywood, George Valentin (Dujardin) is at the height of his powers, packing out cinemas with cheesy adventure films. At the premiere of his latest movie, he bumps into aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Bejo), and sparks fly. Their lives change dramatically when studio boss Al Zimmer (Goodman) starts favouring ‘talkies’, with Miller blossoming into a superstar and a stubborn Valentin becoming a cinematic dinosaur. As their careers go in opposite directions the pair have to overcome bitterness, suspicion, pride and Valentin’s drinking problem if they are to end up together.
Using only body language and facial expressions, Dujardin and Bejo craft one of the most memorable love stories in recent years. Dujardin, who won the Best Actor award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, does a wonderful job portraying Valentin’s descent from gurning buffoon to a suicidal drunk, and is matched by the infectiously bubbly Bejo. They might also have to create a Best Supporting Canine Oscar for Valentin’s scene-stealing Jack Russell sidekick.
Behind the camera Hazanavicius works miracles, punctuating his film with occasional moments of sound – a glass being put down on a table, a deep breath – that are both ingenious and thrilling. If, as some predict, The Artist becomes the first fully French-created film to triumph in the Best Picture category at the Oscars, it will be the most worthy of winners.
Other films out this month
A Dangerous Method (from 10 February) features French star Vincent Cassel in a supporting role as Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Gross in David Cronenberg’s film chronicling the intense relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
Hadewijch (from 17 February) tells the story of Christian fundamentalist C�line vel Hadewijch. Played by rising star Julie Sokolowski, she is thrown out of a convent and moves back to Paris where she befriends a Muslim extremist.
Coco (20 February) – French-Moroccan comedian Gad Elmaleh’s film features a wealthy businessman who alienates his family when he plans a massive bar mitzvah celebration.
Midnight in Paris (6 February) – Woody Allen makes a return to form with this charming comedy in which Luke Wilson magically steps back into the 1920s while out for a stroll in the City of Light.