Thursday, 22 December 2011

Review: The Artist

Rating: PG
Duration: 100 mins

Occasionally Hollywood will warm to a film that doesn't play to the rules of conventionality. In this instance, audiences are presented with a film void of dialogue, relying on visuals, music and action alone to drive the narrative. So accustomed are the mainstream to a reliance on such luxuries, they quickly disassociate with anything other than the confines of familiarity. However, Pixar's 2009 WALL·E proved that silence can indeed work, with the first 45 minutes of said film absent  of word.

A step further is to create a completely silent movie; something that Michel Hazanavicius boldly opts for with   The Artist. Certainly this isn't likely to appeal to the masses, but to more of a niche, whilst avoiding mainstream conformity, thus it naturally becomes optimal Oscar 2012 fodder. In fact, rumour of The Artist sweeping such awards isn't unthinkable with just how well made and refreshingly alternative it is.

Beautifully shot, it's no secret that Hazanavicius has constructed a touching and passionate love letter to the silent era: accomplished entirely with a monochrome sensibility, the entire film cannot help but exude absolute charm. You'll willingly find yourself encapsulated in the life of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), as we follow his successful career before he meets up-and-coming talent Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who quickly becomes hot property as the newest face of the Golden Age as the era of sound beckons.

For such a premise to succeed, it's essential that the script is tightly and solidly written, which it is. It stands as quite an achievement that a feature length screenplay can withstand a lack of sound, as it is accompanied by a dynamically organised score that adds plenty of atmosphere and personality to each and every scene. In modern cinema, where attention spans are shortening by the hour, The Artist does a fantastic job at maintaining interest throughout, only dawdling upon a rare occasion with mild exploration of Valentin's self pity and contrasting downbeat nature.

The decline of silent cinema is poignantly expressed as we witness the deep despair expressed by George through various nightmare sequences: one particularly exquisite scene introduces subtle diegetic sound as he realises he is powerless in clinging onto something that will soon become obsolete. Such futile efforts build into a self-wallowing state of affairs, which take us through to a strong finale and eloquently poised resolve: a satisfying and whimsical sensation will be felt by the end scene, which forms a superbly nostalgic, wonderfully made and extremely likeable film.

In a year with some accomplished performances no doubt set for a battle for Oscars glory, it's perhaps fitting that one of the most prolific efforts here is from canine co-star Uggie. Not only is he trained to perfection as he meanders in and out of scenes with confidence, but also brings the real heart to the piece: cute in both appearance and action, Uggie serves to drive the narrative and provide a substantial amount of pleasure and laughs in an already winsome film. 

Tonally, and by its very nature, the film requires a certain self-conscious awareness. Subtlety and a degree of tongue-in-cheek endeavour to strengthen the brazen nature of (at times) complete silence and amusing intertitles, executed in a sublime fashion that possesses credibility, deeming it hugely rewarding to experience.

VERDICT: The Artist is undeniably one of the most charismatic and captivating films of the year. It delivers something completely alternative from mainstream repetitiveness: a narrative reliant on memorably charming performances, an inventive and consistently entertaining story, as well as a fantastic score; it retains a familiarity rendering it accessible to everyone. What's more, its poignancy allows audiences to embrace in an era gone-by and appreciate how silence really can be golden.