The Artist something different

Last updated 05:00 07/04/2012

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Director: Michel Hazanavicius
100 mins

Talk is cheap. While the "silent age" of cinema died nearly 85 years ago, the power of pure imagery never really went away. So what makes The Artist different?

Well, for a start it's not only a "silent" movie, it's about the end of the silent era. Director Michel Hazanavicius has a great gimmick, but he's lucky the cast and crew (including the dog) can pull it off with such aplomb.

It's 1927, just before the movies began to talk. Matinee idol George Valentin (a suave Jean Dujardin) will soon be on the slide, he doesn't even know it yet. Talking is in, silent pictures are out, and by the time we reach 1929, Wall St has collapsed, and no-one wants to see Valentin's daft, self-funded jungle epic Tears of Love. Meanwhile, ingenue Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who Valentin picked up just two years before, has become a fully-fledged star of these talking pictures.

Yet The Artist succeeds because of its love for cinema form, rather than any particular insight into it. Michel Hazanavicius' direction makes great play of the traditional silent film conventions. From the occasionally overly literal inter-titles to the comedic mugging, this feels like a proper silent film.

A host of support actors, including John Goodman (as the studio's irascible director) to James Cromwell (as Valentin's faithful valet) bring enough vigour and self-awareness to their roles to avoid them being mere types.

The Artist only occasionally lurches into surreal territory, such as Valentin's nightmare about the sound era, where even a feather is louder than an exploding bomb.

Mostly, it's a surprisingly straight homage, albeit one that owes as much to the cinema of the 1930s and 1940s as it does to the "golden age" of silent pictures.

Yet none of this would matter if it were not for the fact that Hazanavicius' portrayal of Valentin's decline and Miller's ascent, and how their paths cross again, is both funny and moving. If The Artist says anything, it's that even now, we're still drawn to the screen. That's enough to keep us talking.

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- The Timaru Herald


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