Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.

"The Artist", with its fascinating charm, wit and wonderful emotions that have served its entirety well in its ode to the beauty of silent filmmaking, is pretty much a throwback to the olden times which may not have offered anything very new to the table but is simply just irresistible in its irrevocably tantalizing, lighthearted allure.

If you may come to look at it in its actual themes and content, one can easily see that "The Artist", directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is nothing really special in terms of what it has to say. Are we talking about 20's silent film nostalgia here? Well, I reckon that it has already been tackled in the same outright fashion by Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain". Are we talking about the post-fame and fortune lives of silent film stars as the dawn of 'talkies' came about? I guess Gene Wilder's "Sunset Blvd." is the definitive film to highlight that.

So what, in the end, made "The Artist" so special? I, for one, think that one of the reasons why is because of its utter innocence and lack of pretense and well, maybe because its ode to a bygone yet golden era is just too hard to ignore and all too easy to appreciate and embrace, thanks to star-making performances by Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo. Dujardin, an actor that is completely unfamiliar to me except for this very film, oozes with effortless grace, appeal and dramatic range. Armed with finely studied physical movements that finely evokes the awkward, oratorical-like gestures that has been the trademark of so many silent films, while at the same time embodying a look that seemingly combines a traditional silent player's to those of Gable and Grant (ironically two of the most well-known faces of the golden era of talkies), Dujardin took on the role of George Valentin as if he was born to play it or, in a more 'art imitates life' perspective, born to be him.

Same commendation goes for Berenice Bejo, who played the role of bit silent player turned talkie movie star Peppy Miller with an almost magical enthusiasm peppered with just the right amount of romantic fervor.

On the technical side, "The Artist" was able to mimic the beautiful Black and White shadow plays of such masters like F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang while injecting within this two-tone world a sort of colorfully dimensioned wonder hidden beneath every frames, acts, and characters waiting to inevitably burst into an escapist whole. Of course, for a film like "The Artist", there must be a considerably weighty conflict to complement the lightheartedness of the whole affair.

In "Singin' in the Rain", there's Gene Kelly and company's transitional difficulties from silent films to talkies. In "Sunset Blvd.", there's Gloria Swanson's madness to keep up with. Here in "The Artist", although it took me awhile to convince myself that it's indeed strong enough a device for narrative complication, it was George Valentin's pride. Yes, the melancholy contained in the said cinematic transition has been a wonderful topic to explore and further develop in films, but what is always overlooked is the fact that silent players are adamant of change not mainly because they are technologically caught off-guard by the sudden arrival of dialogues but because they are mostly a proud lot. They stay loyal to their belief that moving pictures are an art form that need not any talking mouths or swirling tongues because, for them, gestures and musical scores are enough. This is the main concern for George Valentin, along with his declining finances and his flop "Tears of Love" picture.

Subtle as it may seem, "The Artist" is, on its own, a sentimentally outdated commentary that challenges the longevity and artistic integrity of voices in films and whether or not it can keep up with the already established wonder of silent pictures. But more than anything else, "The Artist" is a wonderfully-weaved little love story that bridges the artistic gap between sounds and mere gestures, dialogues and title cards.

And within the film's great silence accompanied only by orchestral musical scores, it's quite evident that, in all the film's joy, laughter and tears, it has more to say, romantically and whatnot, than any other love-oriented films these days. "The Artist", instead of being an untimely elegy to the art of silent films in the same fashion of how Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" may be to Western films, has breathe uncommon life into washed-out cinematic memories of a bygone era and has turned them into sounds, images and emotions that are as lively as they can be and are worth treasuring and relishing one more time, 'with pleasure'.


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