“The Artist,” written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, 100 minutes, rated PG-13.
In the always-evolving and opportunistic world of Hollywood, it can be difficult to gauge which cinematic innovations are genuine advancements in the medium, and which are merely gimmicks intended to dig into consumers’ wallets. Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius takes a look into this with his black-and-white silent film “The Artist,” the favorite to win Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards.
In the late 1920s, actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) was a king among actors in the silent picture era, receiving standing ovations at sold-out shows and winning audiences over with his charming personality and pizzazz. And he was able to do it all through facial expressions, muted gestures and title cards.
But Valentin becomes the victim of his own stubbornness, insisting on not compromising his art and refusing to adapt with the industry as talking pictures take over Hollywood. As Valentin’s star fades, that of Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a little-known actress Valentin once advised when he was in his prime and she was just getting started, begins to rise. Their destinies become intertwined as Peppy remains the only one in Hollywood still starstruck by Valentin, fascinated by him and his work.
For Hazanavicius, “The Artist” is an exercise in filmmaking that pays off, proving that good cinematic storytelling is the same whether the film is silent, black and white, color or 3-D. Hazanavicius keeps the narrative of Valentin’s fall from grace simple and accessible, but the running time feels a bit excessive at 100 minutes, taking an unfitting detour into dark territory as Valentin dwells a little too long on his post-talkie depression.
With that said, for the most part “The Artist” is an absolute joy to watch, thanks in large part to Dujardin and Bejo. Dujardin, who until now was a little-known French actor from Hazanavicius’ “OSS 117” series, takes full advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime role as Valentin, transforming himself into the amiable entertainer who wows audiences within the film, as well as those watching it. Bejo does the same, and the two have a natural chemistry that helps bring “The Artist” together. Needless to say, whether or not either one takes home an Oscar on Sunday, they earned their nominations.
While it’s not one of my favorites from 2011, it’s easy to see how “The Artist” has become the leader in this year’s Oscar race. It’s original, well-made and a lot of fun to watch.
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