October 5, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 44°F


‘The Artist’: Charismatic film bound to charm

It’s no surprise Parisian writer and director Michael Hazanavicius captured the attention of critics with “The Artist,” a playful and modern rendition of silent film that is unspeakably charming. In crisp black-and-white with next to no dialogue, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the film is another inaccessible Golden Globe favorite. However, a captivating storyline and cast make “The Artist” even better than its outspoken modern counterparts.
Jean Dujardin plays heartthrob George Valentin, a silent film superstar with a wide grin who leaves hoards of screaming women beside themselves. By chance, aspiring dancer Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) stumbles into Valentin. Surrounded by photographers, she gives him a peck on the cheek, and the pair make tabloid headlines.
Valentin befriends Miller as she struggles to make it in Hollywood. He gives her the idea to draw on a beauty mark, which leads to her big break. With the birth of the “talkie,” Valentin, a heavily accented Frenchman, is out of work. Miller becomes an overnight sensation. When Valentin is at his lowest, Miller resolves to find a way to bolster his spirits.
Both Dujardin and Bejo give brilliant performances. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Valentin’s charismatic eyebrows, not to chuckle at Peppy Miller’s initial awkwardness, or not to rejoice as she rises to fame.
Hazanavicius punctuates the simple winning  storyline by playing with the idea of sound. In one scene, he suddenly introduces the hum of a radiator and the noisy chattering of girls outside. The sounds haunt Valentin, who is seemingly confined to a world of silence. It’s a creative addition that gives the classic feel of the film a modern twist.
But while the lighthearted use of sound reminds the audience that they are still in the 21st century, a knockout soundtrack pays homage to the history of silent film. Up-tempo, jazzy tunes almost tempt the audience to get up and dance in the aisles. Sultry blues melodies act as a backdrop for a lonely Valentin, drinking scotch surrounded by relics of lost fame. The near absence of sound effects draws attention to the important, yet often overlooked role music plays in films.
With meticulous attention to detail and stunning camera angles, “The Artist” is a nod to the past that is well worth enjoying in the present.