On the other end of the spectrum from Shame is the wonderfully light-hearted ode to good old-fashioned Hollywood filmmaking that is The Artist. It was only about a month ago that Martin Scorsese released his own ode to the early days of cinema with Hugo, while French director Michel Hazanavicius takes his love for silent cinema a step further with a full-on black & white silent film. However, I think Hazanavicius is slightly less interested in film history and more enthusiastic about the simple joys that exist in telling a classic love story with the kind of visually inventive techniques that were encouraged before sound came into play.
Storywise, it’s a little hard not to draw parallels to Singin’ In The Rain, as The Artist also centers around Hollywood’s transition from the star-driven silent films of the 1920’s into the talkies of the ’30s. The particular star it centers on is the fictional George Valentin, played with the utmost charm by Jean Darjudin. Valentin finds his star-power quickly starting to dwindle in the wake of the talking pictures, while the young starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a onetime romantic aquaintance of Valentin, is seen rising in popularity.
Both Darjudin and Bejo are pretty fantastic, and display the kind of charisma and comedic timing that you’d think would be hard for modern actors to pull off, but somehow they fit into this archaic style of acting quite effortlessly. And on top of that, you get to see veteran Hollywood actors like John Goodman and James Cromwell have a lot of fun with their roles as well. Also, a lot of the cinematography takes a page out of Citizen Kane, by often using some striking visual symbolism that helps to give the film a little bit of thematic depth without seeming too indulgent.
With it’s crowd-pleasing optimism and undeniable appeal to cinephiles, it’s easy to see why this could be an awards-season favorite. Sure, it’s a film that’s often light as a feather, but sometimes feel-good movies like this are just what the doctor ordered. Also, I’m a little skeptical about how much audiences will really go for such a quaint nostalgia piece, but if there was ever a movie that could rope modern audiences into seeing a silent black & white film, this’d be it.