Went to see “The Artist” last night, and absolutely loved the movie. Whatever hype it has engendered is in my opinion well-deserved. This movie is first and foremost a story, and a story well-told, and told in the primordial language of cinema. By restricting themselves to the visual medium, the film-makers require the actors to provide essentially everything with their faces and their bodies. The time is 1927 until the mid 30’s, the time of transition from the silent era to the talkies. George Valentin, a thinly disguised Rudolph Valentino, is the king of the silents, a man whose good looks and charm and incredible smile makes him the idol of the day. In the very opening moments, during a photo session on the streets of Hollywood, he and a young actress, Pepper Miller, are accidentally thrown together. Pictures of them make headlines, and he gives her a break and a small part in his new movie. She sets out on the path to a starring career. George, however, though he doesn’t realize it, is about to see his career eclipsed. The talkies catapult her onto the marquee; they doom Valentin to obscurity. But both feel that something exists between them, a bond, and unspoken vow of love.
There are inevitable comparisons to “A Star Is Born”, but without the tragedy. Ultimately, “The Artist” is a comedy. What sets it apart is the beautiful way in which it tells its story. The black and white cinematography etches it on the screen, which is also vintage: narrower than we’re accustomed to, it focuses the action. But always, there are the faces telling the story. Midway through the film, Pepper, in an interview, makes a disparaging remark, saying that the public wants to hear the actors, they they are tired of seeing them mug on the screen, exaggerating every emotion and subtext. But it is just this motif that makes the film endearing. These are truly expressive people. Keanu Reeves would be hard-pressed to make this movie. But we can tell almost everything John Goodman (a Hollywood producer in the film) means whenever he roars at the camera. And the star, Jean Dujardin, has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen. He, and the actress playing Pepper, were a constant joy to watch.
Whether you like it or not probably depends on what you bring to the theatre, as is often the case. But if you love a great story, told with beautiful cinematography and exquisite attention to detail, my guess is you’ll love “The Artist”. It’s the kind of show that just makes you feel really good inside.
© 2012 Chuck Puckett