The Battle for an Oscar: The Artist

The Artist is a film worth talking about for a number of reasons, the first of which is that it is not likely to be very popular with the average moviegoer. The Artist is a black and white silent film set in the 1920s, reminiscent of A Star is Born and Singing in the Rain.  For those unfamiliar with those films, The Artist is, in short, a romance between a rising talkie star and a falling silent one.

The story was interesting, but that is not what makes this film remarkable.  This movie is nothing short of audacious and counter culture, but that is also not its most memorable feature.  Beyond the daring return to silence and black and white, beyond the story, this film is the first that is truly aesthetic.  Black and white photographs have something of beauty that colored ones often can hardly hope to attain.  Several shots in the movie were fabulous.  In one, the shot focuses on the main character, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who sits by a reflective table, holding a drink.  Then, the camera turns upside down, so that it seems as if the reflection were the real Valentin, until he pours out his drink on the table, shattering the illusion.  Some shots were symbolic, such as when Peppy (Bérénice Bejo), the rising star, watches a silent film made by Valentin, where he sinks into quicksand, with his arm reaching out to the camera, or as we see it, to Peppy, and to his fickle audience, or in another scene where he goes down the stairs, and Peppy goes up, after he learns he has been replaced as the production company’s top star; those are just a few examples.

This movie seems like any other silent film from the twenties, but with one advantage: sound could be and was used as an affective tool.  One of the coolest scenes, a dream sequence, happens after he first sees an example of a talking picture.  He sits in his dressing room when he drops his brush.  To his surprise, it makes a sound. His chair rubs loudly against the floor when he stands up, his feet make noise, he drops other things on the table and they clatter, flappers outside laugh, and the bustling noise of Hollywood can be heard through his window, but when he opens his mouth he cannot talk.  He screams, without making sound.  This technique was both effective and interesting to watch.

The actors in this film as well, were very good.  Charming, might be the best word, and the two leads, Jean Dujardin (Valentin) and Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller) worked well together.  John Goodman, who played the producer/director, and, at times, acted as comic relief, was great too.

For those who are wondering, this was not based off Rudolph Valentino, romantic silent film star, as Valentino died before the first sound film, The Jazz Singer, was released, but his name impresses upon people who would get the reference the kind of man George Valentin was supposed to be.  He was, like Valentino, so sought after, so beloved, so popular, that the fall of his career would be that much harder for him.  There are many references and subtle jokes throughout the movie, and that adds some wit to the film.  Speaking of wit, although the film was, for the most part, a serious one, there are many humorous scenes throughout the movie.

To sum it all up, this film surpasses audience’s expectations; it was funny, charming, and heartwarming and definitely worth seeing.