FAVE FOREIGN/SILENT – The Artist (2011)
With my regular blogging business focused on my loves for pizza and music, this opportunity to make “draft picks” and write about my favorite movies has been an enjoyable stretch. However, with three picks to go, I found myself struggling for selections in my remaining genres. Of those left, the Foreign or Silent choice proved the most difficult since I couldn’t even think of any that I have seen!
Pouring over lists of foreign films, I was sure that something would surface that I have watched. I even began to regret that I couldn’t understand the Irish dialogue enough to make it all the way through Trainspotting since I guess it would qualify as a Foreign film. As for a Silent film, as a child, I saw my dad watch all the Charlie Chaplin classics, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through one. Let’s face it, I guess I need spoken words in English, not subtitles or dialogue intertitles, in my movies.
Discussing this dilemma with my wife, she quickly reminded me that I did enjoy the 2011 film, The Artist. As always, she was right. I did love that one but had completely forgotten about it. The Artist is styled like a classic black and white silent film and my wife and I even saw it in the fitting space of our historic hometown movie theater.
In all fairness, I was concerned when I pegged it to be my Silent film choice, since it’s technically a “part talkie” film that has some bits of sound and dialogue. But alas, I felt safe with my choice when I discovered that it is also technically a Foreign film having been produced in France.
I was also quite surprised to see that The Artist was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five including three of the big ones: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Rather remarkable when you think about how many filmgoers like me, also prefer color and sound on the big screen. The question remains though as to what makes the film the exception to my narrow taste?
While I don’t want to give too much away, The Artist is cleverly designed as a Silent movie about a fading Silent movie star. Set in Hollywood, his fall is contrasted against the rise of a former co-star of his who makes the successful move into the “talkies,” a move which he is both denied and opposed to. I will however make you wait patiently and watch the film to find out when the screenplay lets the “silent” wall gets broken.
French director, Michel Hazanavicius, does a perfect job of getting everything genre correct: the proper black and white tones and aspect ratio, accompanying orchestral music (in an Award-winning score) and classic-looking dialogue intertitles. He also employed some modern film trickery to mimic how things looked on the screen back in the day. He really nailed it!
The lead role of George Valentin is played by French actor, Jean Dujardin. His on-screen presence is as emotively expressive and captivating as it took to be successful back in the Silent film era and well worthy of the honors he received for his performance. The storyline, although it reeks of “hasn’t this has been done before,” is however so well-written that it will keep you glued to the screen. Kudos also to French actress, Bérénice Bejo who, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, also gives a great performance as the rising starlet Peppy Miller. And these two really do some fabulous dancing together!
Alongside the serious looks at the “pre-talkie” fame and glamor of the film star’s life and the tragedy that follows, The Artist is humorous with both running gags (such as the charming actions “The Dog”) and cleverly hidden bits of sarcasm that you need to keep your eyes open for. There are also great cameo roles by three familiar actors: John Goodman (perfectly cast as a 1920’s movie bigwig), James Cromwell, and Malcom McDowell.
So, tough it up and give this one a go if you have not already done so. You will be glad that you did.