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London Film Festival: The Artist - Review

The Artist

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

EVERY once in a while a film comes along that truly lives up to the term ‘special’. Michael Hazanavicius’ The Artist is just that… a bold, unique and magical film that delights from start to finish.

To dismiss it merely as a one-note ‘homage’ to Hollywood’s silent era would be doing it a disservice, for in looking backwards to pay gloriously realised tribute Hazanavicius’ film is also a bone fide modern classic in its own right.

Opening in 1927, the film focuses on silent movie mega-star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) as he slowly finds his fame threatened by the advent of the talkies.

At first dismissive of the technology, he slowly comes to realise that he is fast becoming part of a bygone era… yet remains too pig-headed and proud to conform or embrace the technological changes.

At the same time, beautiful newcomer Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is making her own mark on the industry, becoming a major star in her own right after accidentally being ‘discovered’ by Valentin.

As the two artists’ careers experience wildly differing fortunes, Valentin slowly comes to realise he may also have discovered an unsuspecting ally in Miller.

It’s difficult to know exactly where to begin lavishing praise upon Hazanavicius’ movie. Shot in black and white and told in silent fashion to evoke the look and feel of that era perfectly, it’s like re-discovering a lost classic from that time, such is its keen eye for period detail and heartfelt nostalgia.

Yet viewed from the benefit of hindsight, it also assumes a very poignant feel… and one that can be adapted to any passing of eras. It’s an all-too familiar story, yet relayed in fiercely traditional fashion.

That’s not to say this is a straight-faced tribute… far from it! Early on, especially, there’s an invention and a wicked sense of humour that evokes the spirit of Chaplin at times with flourishes that are both funny and deeply romantic.

The Artist

Witness an early bask in the glory of his fame by Valentin, or a delicious moment involving Miller as she imagines a romantic liaison with George using only his coat – two classic moments that are as heart-warming as they are smile inducing.

Even late on, as things take a darker turn, there’s still room for humour… most of which is supplied by Valentin’s scene-stealing dog (a constant source of amusement).

And throughout, Hazanavicius flexes his own creative muscles with several bravado moments, the pinnacle of which is arguably a dream sequence in which he cleverly incorporates sound.

But such technical and visual brilliance never come at the expense of the performances, which really are to be savoured.

Dujardin, in particular, is a mesmerising presence, by turns effortlessly charismatic (in a silent Errol Flynn meets Cary Grant kind of way), heart-breaking and fool-hardy, while Bejo is every bit his match and luminous in her vivacious turn as Miller.

Support from the likes of John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Anne Miller is just as nicely observed, leaving you with the warm sense that the talents of no one have been wasted.

But above all, this is a feel-good throwback to a bygone era that also remains essential for modern audiences. It really is a film to be savoured time and again and one that thoroughly deserves every accolade coming to it.

Certificate: tbc
Running time: 100mins
London Film Festival Premiere: October 18, 2011
UK Release Date: tbc