OK, we get it. You are enamored with this film because despite the fact that you have never given Buster Keaton’s train sequence in The General the time of day, everyone was talking about the revolutionary reversion to silence, and you wanted on board.
All novelty aside, I do have an affinity for good silent films. This film is more than homage; it personifies the deep passion of an entire subculture that has, for years, devoted itself to celebrating the silent era. I went with a friend who hadn’t been to a movie theater in a decade, but made it out for The Artist because to him, this was a noble effort worthy of inflated big screen ticket prices. Let’s face it, most of us were not alive to experience Duck Soup, City Lights, The General, Sunshine, Vampyr, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, etc, and can only archive these gems within our own DVD collections, many of which have been restored and remastered, because there are a great many people that revere these films.
And here we are, director Hazanavicius orchestrates a charming story that moves gracefully from frame to frame, capturing the story of a silent movie actor whose craft is biologically seated in him, and, subsequently, has a tough time joining the herd entranced by the addition of sound to moving pictures. Recall Tommy Lee Jones sitting on the motel bed in No Country For Old Men; the world had passed him by and he was left to reconcile this. Or even the comical moments in Singin’ In The Rain, when the rhythm of sound in movies was not an easy one to slip into unscathed.
Lead actor Jean Dujardin has the classic chiseled chin and thin mustache, and embodies every aspect of his character. The casting is strong, and John Goodman is stellar as usual. Berenice Bejo plays the love interest that starts as a fan of Dujardin’s character, but gradually becomes a well known starlet in high demand. Her rise to fame is a foil to his decline. As sound becomes more popular, so does she, and he becomes more and more irrelevant.
His resistance to change is accompanied with a dream sequence about half way through the film. The director uses sound in this sequence, and for artistic purposes, I was fine with it. In fact, I would even call it clever. However, the end of the film, where sound is used in the final scene, was the furthest thing from artistic. After a long downward spiral, Dujardin’s character has found his place in the new world of sound, and articulates this by speaking. Some might be wowed by this move to sound for the final line of the piece, but it was just too incredibly literal for my taste. In fact, it added nothing to the film. Moreover, I encourage anyone to try and explain any other motive for this choice by director Hazanavicius than to LITERALLY illustrate the fact that our wandering protagonist has now found his place. It was unnecessary, and damages the sensitive palettes of many die-hard silent aficionados. Those that leave undamaged, I am convinced, are simply so happy that someone did a legitimate silent movie that they are unwilling to protest the use of sound in the final scene.
The final word is this: The Artist is well done, and at many points moving, but if it was to win the Oscar for best picture, the award would stem from nostalgia and not because of its impact and story. Fine casting, fine acting, and an admiral endeavour overall, but they should have kept the film pure and sound free.