We all know the common stereotypes about French people, right? One of those stereotypes is that they're cowards. Well, writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has some of the biggest balls I've ever seen publicly displayed and there's no way in hell anyone in Hollywood could EVER accuse that Frenchman of being a coward. He did something that no one else was willing or even crazy enough to do....released a black and white, silent film in 2011. Black and white is one thing; we've all seen American History X or Schindler's List and they're fantastic. But SILENT?! Could a jaded 21st Century audience really be entertained by something like that? You bet your ass they can, and it's one of the best films of the year.
The Artist stars French comedian Jean Dujardin and Argentinian actress Berenice Bejo (A Knight's Tale) as two famous Hollywood actors in the 1920s and 1930s. Dujardin is on his way down in fame and Bejo is on her way up. But their paths cross and they never forget one another. Yes, this is a love story but it's also more than that. It's a story of friendship and compassion too. In fact, their love is one of the byproducts of their relationship, but attraction and empathy are what really drives it along.
There are American actors in The Artist, like John Goodman, James Cromwell (Babe, W.) and Malcom McDowell (Halloween, A Clockwork Orange), but it's Duardin and Bejo's film. Considering that it's a silent movie, I'm not sure it would be possible to find two American mainstream actors who could pull off a wordless performance. (Maybe Andy Serkis who makes a habit out of it.) They are both charming, sweet, gripping and exude sunshine in every single frame of this movie. Even when the plots takes us to its darkest moments, it's still a pure delight to watch.
Hazanavicius also shares most of the credit as well when you consider that he made every second of The Artist feel like it was pulled from a time capsule buried in 1929. It's magical to see it and impossible to not smile when watching it. Yes, it's true that being void of dialogue tests your attention span. It's interesting that we've been conditioned so much that I did notice myself drifting off during the middle of the film a bit and you get the thought of "can I really sit through 90 minutes of this" when the film starts. But you can and you'll love that you did, especially for the ending that not only climaxes perfectly but even has a twist ending too.
Another spotlight has to be directed on Ludovic Bource who composed all the music in the film. When a movie is silent, the music is just as much of a lead character as anyone featured on the screen. Because of that, Bource is a shoe-in for the Oscar for Best Original Score. That's just one of the Oscars that The Artist deserves to win. I think Hazanavicius should take one for Directing and I can't think of another film this year that deserves Best Picture more. Normally a film that's a black and white AND silent would seem like Oscar pandering and the typical artsy-fartsy crap that Americanse roll their eyes at; but trust me that it's far from pretentious at all! I understand that "black and white" and "silent" sound so scary and boring but there isn't anything unenjoyable about The Artist and it's one of the few films this year that I can't wait to see again. The Artist (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A+