The Artist; ravishingly beautiful

“The Artist is a glorious, monochrome silent celebration of everything that’s magical about movies, a melodious, moving love letter to the golden dawn of Hollywoodland. It says far more than most movies can dream of – even in its silence.”

Do you remember the time when you used to watch the series of Charles Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy?? In other words, do you remember those films from the silent era?? Well, there is one movie in 2011 that takes you to that era of silent comedy/tragedy. Michael Hazanavicius’ recent flick The Artist takes you to that era of silent romance, silent tragedy and silent comedy and this something that makes it different from the rest of the films that released in the recent times. Though the movie is yet to release in India; the film was an instant hit at the 13th Mumbai Film Festival.

The film actually reminded me of my childhood days. I still remember when I was about seven, one of my favourite films was The Phantom of the Opera, this 1925 silent classic starring Lon Chaney as the lonely, vengeful opera ghost. Back then, I didn’t much care whether a film was black and white, technicolor, dubbed, musical or full of screaming kids: I just loved watching movies. But days go by and now watching films and reviewing them has become a part of my job…I’ve become more picky, for which, I fear, that some where I’ve become very close minded to certain things. So when I heard that a 21st century silent movie was storming the crowd at the festival, I thought of watching it…I will be honest, I was skeptical, but at the same time I was intrigued.

The Artist is a glorious, monochrome silent celebration of everything that’s magical about movies, a melodious, moving love letter to the golden dawn of Hollywoodland. It is a beautifully told story of one man, George Valentin (in an amazing performance by Jean Dujardin), a famous silent movie actor, who also lives in a silent world, and who cannot make the transition from silent films to talkies.

George Valentin  is the biggest movie star inHollywood. A thinly veiled Valentino, the handsome hero tops every billboard in town and draws swooning crowds wherever he goes. When young fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) grabs some of his limelight by accidentally falling at his feet, she uses the headlines to jumpstart her own acting career.

A few years later the advent of sound hits Tinseltown – and Valentin – like a hammer blow. Unwilling to adapt, Valentin’s star falls just as Miller’s starts to rise and a lonely Hollywoodicon is abandoned by his beloved fans.

Why does George not embrace talkies or at least give them a try? This question is ultimately answered, but subtly and touchingly, in the way a good silent movie would.

To see The Artist is to realize how much movies have lost from having gained so much technical sophistication. Think about this: Though shot in theUnited States, this is, in fact, a French film. The co-stars, Penelope Ann Miller (as the actor’s wife) and John Goodman (as a studio head), are American. But Dujardin, Bejo and Hazanavicius are major names in the current French cinema. Yet the silence makes them universal, so there is nothing foreign about them.

The Artist as a movie really explores, the death and extinction of a medium that brought the world together, that everyone could experience in the same way, never from the outside, never as a stranger. With delicacy and originality, it laments what went away. But it also performs a resurrection, because in Dujardin’s performance we discover something extraordinary and lovely, the first truly great silent film performance in about 80 years.

Director of “The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius

Keeping in mind the adversaries of silent movies, one has to give credit to director Michel Hazanavicius for conferring us with something which is refreshing. The Artist never feels like a parody or a good idea that becomes laborious in the execution. It’s lovingly corny, great fun, good-looking and respectful. Silence being silence, you wouldn’t know it’s essentially a French enterprise – especially with John Goodman playing a big-shot producer – although Hazanavicius offers a witty nod to the film’s provenance in its final scene, reminding us that, yes, so many of the great silent Hollywood films were made by Europeans who crossed the Atlantic.

The movie portrays the conflict of silent films and “talkies” brilliantly. But to me, the real success is that, by using good actors, who’s faces, smiles, eyes tell exactly what they are feeling, the director makes dialog almost unnecessary. In an era where we have nothing but talking pictures, it was refreshing to see that the spoken word was really unnecessary. Of course, some of the silent film stars mugged relentlessly and Dujardin showed that when he was acting in his movies-within-the-movie. But he also showed us how to relay emotion naturally, with his eyes, and especially, his smile.

Finally, The Artist is a ravishingly beautiful homage to the days of silent cinema and at the end I would like to ask all our big and so called “great directors” from Bollywood, “Take note Bollywood this is how inventive cinema should look.”

The Artist says far more than most movies can dream of – even in its silence.

Ratings: * * * * * / 5

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