Is The Artist Worth Seeing?
The Artist took home Best Picture last night. Here’s contributor Daniel Picker’s take:
The Artist starring Jean Dujardin, and Berenice Bego, also stars Uggie, a Jack Russell Terrier and scene stealer. This trio trumps a supporting cast which includes the larger – than – life John Goodman as the demonstrative Al Zimmer, the capable James Cromwell as Clifton, the Valet, and the able Ed Lauter as Peppy’s Initial Chauffeur, along with Malcolm McDowell as The Butler.
But this silent, black & white film belongs to the eponymous “Artist” George Valentin as portrayed by Jean Dujardin. Dujardin’s performance exhibits brilliance, and he, along with Berenice Bejo as Peppy, and the dog, should be sufficient inspiration for delinquent film lovers as Oscar season approaches. A mirror, and a large plate – glass shop window figure prominently in “The Artist.” Early on in the film Valentin faces a mirror and his subtle and brief shift in facial expression illuminates the dilemma of the artist: am I myself or the character I portray? And is either sufficient? And for whom? While Valentin silently meditates on his fate a filmgoer cannot help but be drawn into this motion picture.
Part of Valentin’s problem is due to pride, and his version of this often masculine dilemma. Along the way moviegoers are treated to his gifts as a mime of sorts. On one occasion Valentin stands before a shop window behind which rests a tuxedoed mannequin and he sees his own face reflected above the shoulders of the mannequin, in a sense seeing his former self, a man of panache. The film, directed by Michel Hazanavicius exhibits other stunning visual effects.
Berenice Bejo is subtly stunning as Peppy, who as silent film fades in appeal, and Valentin’s star and fortune are eclipsed, she shines as a new star, and not without Valentin’s help. The film is set during The Great Depression, and the Hollywood sets help emphasize a world of formerly glorious unreality. But there is no room for Peppy’s Talkies in “The Artist” so she too must express her love for her proud yet fallen mentor through mime. Peppy’s scene in which she slips her hands and arms through Valentin’s empty, draped dark coat, and wraps the sleeves which contain her arms is mesmerizing. Too often these effects are missing from 21st – century cinema. “The Artist” silently, except for the musical score, exemplifies charm and romance. One cannot help but wonder how many Hollywood stars would prove themselves less capable or even completely lost without dialogue?
The Artist has already garnered a plethora of awards and nominations, including a Best Actor Award for Jean Dujardin at The Cannes Film Festival. The production of the film is French, with help from the Weinstein brothers. It’s not too late for you too: see “The Artist” on the Big Screen, for this film is worth the price of ticket; see The Artist, if not for Dujradin’s perfectly executed final dance scene with Bejo, then for the effervescent Terrier.
Daniel Picker’s reviews and articles appear in The Oxonian Review, Harvard Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Rain Taxi Review of Books, Middlebury Magazine, The Stanford Daily, The Princeton Packet, and many others.