Review: The Artist

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo
Director: Michael Hazanavicius
Certificate: PG

Every year, my boyfriend and I make a point of trying to see as many films as we can that are likely to be major award contenders. Not because we’re snobs (we are snobs, but that’s entirely coincidental), but because when the inevitable discussions start about what deserves to win (or in hindsight, what didn’t deserve to win), we like to be both a) opinionated and b) fairly confident that our opinions have some basis in reality. So that’s how we wound up watching The Artist, a film that we probably wouldn’t have been in any great rush to see if it hadn’t been picking up serious awards buzz and topping a lot of critics’ best-of-the-year polls. We’d probably have got around to it eventually, but it would have been a Saturday night LoveFilm job in front of the telly, and not a cold Saturday evening at Cineworld Hammersmith.

So, the main things I knew about this film before I saw it were that it was a silent film, and that it had a dog in it. And, to be honest, those are probably its two biggest selling points. I overheard an older couple on the way out commenting that it was a “good old-fashioned film”, which was interesting, because despite the set-up, I thought it had a very modern sensibility. The bits of the film that I felt were the most successful were the parts where it got playful with its own construction, like the dream sequence in which George begins to hear sounds for the first time. It’s effective because it gently satirises the silent film as a format, but also because the audience are as shocked by the sounds as George is, having been sharing his aurally-dulled world for the past 40 minutes or so. Words take on a strange, alien quality in this film – when the song ‘Pennies From Heaven’ plays over a montage, it’s genuinely unsettling to hear lyrics as well as a melody. The effectiveness is increased by the sparing use of this experimentation, though I feel there would’ve been room for a bit more playing with this idea if the director had felt like it.

There’s a lot to love about this film – considering it’s a fairly one-dimensional idea, the silent movie gag never outstays its welcome, largely thanks to the techniques mentioned above. What also sustains it throughout its 100-minute run is an abundance of charm, thanks to the wonderfully detailed design, some beautiful cinematography, and the charisma of the two leads. Even the small parts are filled out with wonderful actors – Beth Grant gets her name in the opening titles, though her time on screen is minimal, John Goodman was clearly born to play a cigar-chewing Hollywood executive, and the presence of Missi Pyle in a film tipped for so many Oscars gladdens my heart. Not being able to discern 100 per cent of the dialogue is part of the fun, and the actors clearly have a ball trying to sketch every emotion across their face.

However, and I feel a bit churlish in saying this considering I enjoyed this film so much, I wonder if it lives up to the hype. I left feeling that it was a great idea well-executed rather than a genuinely groundbreaking film. If it does turn out to be a big winner, I wonder if it’s the sort of film we might all look back on in a few years and wonder if that’s really what all the fuss was about. I think people will look back upon it fondly, but whether it’s really destined to be as legendary as people are claiming, I’m not convinced.

To end the review on my usual shallow note, the costumes were magnificent, and I hadn’t realised just how flattering men’s tailoring was in the 1920s, because Dujardin’s arse looks magnificent throughout this film. It’s probably worth an Oscar or two for that alone, to be honest.

Coming attractions:
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: The cream of Britain’s over-60s acting talent jumps at the chance of a jolly in India despite a script that appears to be packed with “LOL FOREIGNERS” references.
J. Edgar: Another film that appears interesting, well-crafted and potent that I still won’t want to watch due to my general aversion to Leonardo DiCaprio.
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close: Precocious child + Tom Hanks + 9/11 weepiness = no thanks.
The Woman In Black: Harry Potter And The Hope Of An Enduring Career In Cinema


2 thoughts on “Review: The Artist

  1. Rad says:

    The Artist would have made a great three-minute YouTube clip. It’s such a patronising film. The best bit is when George hears sounds as you think that’s going to shift the whole tone of the film. And then it doesn’t. It’s all ‘oh look, isn’t it sad we don’t have silent movies now’ when it could have said something much more interesting. It’s pretty though, I grant you. J Edgar is a flawed film, OK-ish but rather weird and Di Caprio and the other bloke look ridiculous in the old-man make-up. The Woman in Black was better than I expected but it’s total overkill on the ‘let’s cram every creepy image in the world into this film’ front. Less is more sometimes. I didn’t rate the play much either, though.

    • Yeah, I remember being really disappointed when that whole sequence turned out to have no lasting effect of any kind on the plot, because it was by far the most inventive and interesting part of the film. I still think it’s a very well-made, well-acted film, but I just question the level of excitement over it. I suppose it’s because the people saying all of this are film critics and filmmakers, and they presumably quite like films that are about films.

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