A black and white, mostly silent story of Hollywood at the advent of the talkies, “The Artist,” is told through light and pure emotion.
The plot is simple: an A-list silent film star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), falls from the firmament (abandoned by everyone except his devoted chauffeur and even more loyal Jack Russell) as an ingenue, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Béjo), rapidly ascends and with the grace that characterizes her dancing (and his), helps him regain his place on screen and in the world.
But watching it unfold, swept along in its slightly speedy rhythm (it was shot at 22 frames per second) is dazzling–a love story between two people and between all of us and the movies.
Director Michel Hazanavicius said in October at the NYFF press conference for “The Artist,” explaining why his film works, why it isn’t a stunt, “There’s no irony here.”
His two previous films, “OSS 117,” spy spoofs stuffed with dirty double entendres, winked relentlessly at the audience. The jokes were so inside that non-native proficiency in French and subtitles wouldn’t reveal the humor: a French childhood, knowledge of the culture, its pop culture, understanding puns, idioms, etc. were totally required.
Before the American release of “OSS 117-Lost in Rio,” Sophie said, “Jean Dujardin is one of the biggest stars in France. He’s like a hybrid of George Clooney and Adam Sandler. I’d like you to shoot some portraits that we can use to promote his new film.”
Huge at home, largely unknown here then (like Chow Yun Fat before “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), Jean Dujardin was exactly as the unlikely description had it– an adult man, handsome, sophisticated and glamorous in a suit but a jokester with a rubber face and the moves of a physical comedian. And a spot-on mimic. Even MOS, I think it’s obvious he’s doing De Niro (see below).
At the very end of “The Artist,” when, after dancing on a sound stage with Peppy, George finally speaks , in just two words (“With pleasure”), it’s obvious what doomed his career. But the pleasure of that sequence (and all that precedes it) is far from his alone.
“The Artist” will open on Friday, November 25 in New York (Paris Theatre and the Angelika Film Center) and Los Angeles, with a national rollout to follow.