VIFF Day The Last: Silence, but in French

The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius (France)

First of all, I should let you know that The Artist is in black and white. Seco…Hey! Where are you going? Come back! Ok, that’s better. The other thing that I need to tell you is that it’s a silent film, with absolutely no speaki…..Hey! Get back here! Uncultured philistines.

Yes, it’s a black and white movie. And yes, it’s a silent film, with absolutely no dialogue, with only an occasional inter title to help propel the story forward. And it’s absolutely wonderful.

It’s the story of George Valentin, the biggest movie star of the silent era of film. He’s got everything: Wealth, fame, and a beautiful wife. And then? Progress. The talkie is invented, making a silent specialist like George more than a little redundant. He’s bound and determined to prove the experts wrong, and do one last great silent movie. And it bombs. And then the great depression hits. And now he’s done.

This is a melodrama in the truest sense of the word, and as such, eminently predictable. But the genius of the film isn’t what the end result is, it’s how the story unfolds, and how Hazanavicius utilizes the long dead art of inter titles and a stunning score by Ludovic Bource to tell such a simple, yet effective story.

And of course we need to talk about the actors. To pull such a unique film, you need unique players, and we get them in spades in Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo. Bejo pulls off a wonderful Clara Bow/Ginger Rogers pastiche that would have stolen the show, if it weren’t for the uber-leading man star power of Dujardin, a man who I’m absolutely convinced was the lost love child of Gene Kelly and Douglas Fairbanks. Not to mention the great John Goodman, who as always makes bad movies good, and good movies great, with a nice little role as the studio boss with a soft heart.

And then there’s the score. Ludovic Bource has created a score so vibrant, and so exciting, that it might as well have been an actor in its own right. Though some of the stylistic choices do sound more than a little post-modern for the 1920’s setting, I’m willing to allow it.

I need to tell you something. This is no simple art house conceit. I’m convinced that not only is there a market for The Artist, but that it’s an Oscar contender. It’s probably the best feel good movie I’ve seen this year (yes, maybe even more so than Midnight In Paris), and I could see this crossing over to multiplex crossover success if handled correctly. If you like smart, entertaining films that don’t make you feel like you’ve been kicked in the junk by Pele, than The Artist is definitely for you.

Rating: A


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