‘The Artist’: Silent movie leaves audiences speechless

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Written by Justin Zarian

[Rating: 4 out of 4 stars]

Someone made a silent, black and white film in 2011? You better believe it!

Now I am sure many people will read this and say, “I do not want to see anything like that,” or, “That sounds boring.” I would like to say I don’t blame you, but after watching the new silent film “The Artist,” I think you have no reason to avoid it unless you truly hate silent movies. “The Artist” is not just an incredibly moving and funny film, but it may just be the best film of 2011.

The story follows fictional silent movie star George Valentin, whose blissfully egotistical life is interrupted by the arrivals of rising starlet Peppy Miller and the “talkie” films. Stubbornly refusing to take these films seriously, George can only watch as his pride tears down his fame, his marriage and his self-worth. The reason this uncomplicated story works is because it is masterfully executed in its simplicity. What director Michel Hazanavicious does to tell the story through body language, camerawork, music and a few text cards is unlike any film you have seen in a long time. You will be surprised how much emotion you will feel throughout this film, especially in the tear-jerking moments of complete silence.

Craftsmanship is incredibly important to make a film like this work and Hazanavicious’ eye for detail is all over that. The gorgeous cinematography communicates motifs and artful metaphors through lighting and camera placement in a way that dialogue just could not.

The music, which is practically a character in the film, is so well done you may feel like you’re in a professional orchestra concert. The set design, costumes, make-up and even the editing feel appropriate for the period and style. All of these pieces work together to make one great whole that will have you laughing, crying and fighting the urge to dance in equal measures.

Now let us talk about the acting. There are definitely some great supporting roles here, from James Cromwell’s loyal chauffeur to John Goodman’s tough movie executive to George’s scene-stealing dog. Almost all the praise, however, goes to Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo as George and Peppy, respectively. Dujardin, who channels the infectious charm of classic actor Gene Kelly, is a natural physical actor and comedian with a face so expressive you can always know what he’s thinking. His pantomime is played for laughs and tears, but never goes over the top and always feels purposeful. Bejo is a great foil for him as Peppy, who plays the journey from lowly fan to friendly rival with sweet innocence and strong determination. She also shows great comedic timing in several instances, particularly in a scene involving a coat stand.

I do not think I can praise this any more without going on for too long. Go see “The Artist”! It will be such a nice surprise.

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