By: Yael Warach
In a semi-crowded theatre on East 12th Street, an audience comprised of the young, the old, and the older still, sit together in anticipation of Michel Hazanavicius’ award winning film, The Artist. While most of us have been lured to the theatre to watch what promises to be an artistic masterpiece, I’m initially hesitant to award it a gold star based solely on hearsay. After all, can a movie really be entertaining without dialogue? Color? Violence?? Indeed it can—Hazanavicius’ film was not only entertaining, but it was thought provoking, challenging, and a breath of fresh air in today’s world of mediocre, overproduced, cinema.
The story, despite its unique wrapping, is one that we’re all vaguely familiar with. A young ingénue (Bérénice Bejo), has a chance encounter with a dashing movie star and follows her heart into the world of show business. Lovely and wildly charming, she quickly rises to the top of her industry as a leading lady—complete with glitter, tap dancing and a parade of handsome suitors. In a parallel path, the once-famous actor she met and instantly fell in love with (Jean Dujardin), sees his stardom quickly slipping from his grasp. Unable to evolve in tandem with the film industry of the 1930s, the silent film actor finds himself out of work, without a home, and irrelevant. Dujardin, along with his adorable side kick Jack the dog (played by Uggie), enchants in this role—he is charming and wildly expressive, drawing us into the scene with little more than a smile and a wink (But, oh what a wink it is). Supported by a cast of equally talented actors, The Artist proves to showcase Hollywood talent in unique and unexpected ways.
Both a narrative about love and tenderness between two almost-strangers/almost-friends, the film also provides an interesting commentary on a technological revolution as the silent film gives way to the “talkies,” a modern breed of cinema. Set in Hollywood during the Jazz Age, The Artist is as much a commentary on losing sight of simpler times, as it is an artistic exploration of black and white film. Above all, one might argue that this film is an aesthetic experiment on twenty-first century audiences—are we so trained in the way we absorb the world around us that we can even take in a silent film? With black and white footage, set to the playful and sometimes dramatic score of Ludovic Bourse, The Artist returns us to a time when motion pictures used only facial cues, body language, or nuance to tell a story. Unused to focusing so intensely on these unspoken gestures, I found myself engaged more deeply in the story unfolding before my eyes. And just when I had accepted that my eyes (and not my ears) would be doing the work over the next two hours, I was startled by the introduction of sound. The unexpected moments of artistic experimentation emerge sporadically throughout the narrative—arbitrary sounds like the tipping of a cup or the landing of a feather seem to reverberate all the more, if only magnified by their absence throughout the rest of the film. By the end of the film, this weaving of the modern and historical, artistic and slapstick leave the viewer feeling stretched in a multiplicity of directions, tired, yet exuberant.