Can a silent black-and-white film hold audience attention? Rebello investigates.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius MPAA Rating: PG-13 Studio: La Petite Reine
French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius appears to be perfectly content staying presently, and permanently, in the past. Maybe he should stay there for good. Having already given us two wonderfully spoofy 007 homages with OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio, his latest, The Artist, reaches back to the grand silent film era of the late ‘20s. Magnificently filmed in black and white, shot at 22 frames per second and almost entirely silent, The Artist revisits the plot of the much-filmed Hollywood saga A Star Is Born, adds a dash or two of Singin’ in the Rain and Sunset Boulevard, and charms and moves the hell out of us.
The film stars Jean Dujardin as a dashing, cocky, aging film idol who befriends an ambitious young beauty (Bérénice Bejo) whose gimlet eyes are fixed on stardom. Despite warnings from the studio boss (John Goodman, in Wallace Beery mode) about the advent of sound, the matinee idol stubbornly refuses to test for talking pictures and, while the protégée’s career skyrockets through the early ‘30s, his career tragically implodes. His wife (a vinegary, just-right Penelope Ann Miller) and millions of adoring fans desert him and only his long-suffering chauffeur (James Cromwell) and plucky, scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier stand by him. Packed with tips of the hat to the films of directors Chaplin, Borzage, von Sternberg– there’s even a misfired musical cue from Hitchcock – the movie may be the stuff of recreated magic but, these days, we’ll grab our magic wherever we can. Heart-warming, funny, romantic, lovingly nostalgic and acted to elegant, self-aggrandizing and gallant perfection by Dujardin, whose performance won him a Best Actor prize at Cannes, The Artist recreates a movie era so full of wonder and emotion that it may make you question whether the way we were wasn’t a whole lot better than the way we are.