I finally got around to watching The Artist as it releases on DVD. When it was in theaters, I kept thinking I would catch it later choosing to watch The Descendants and War Horse instead. Of course, everyone knows how the film was the big winner at this year's Academy Awards with wins in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Score and Best Costumes. It became only the second silent film after Wings to win Best Picture.
How is it possible that a silent film to have so much success in this day and age? That too in black and white! Its success is a testament to the fact that good storytelling should always prevail. The Artist is the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent movie star with Kinograph Studios. We see him in the opening sequences of a film-within-a-film escaping the clutches of some evil men with the help of his trusty dog, Jack (enacted by superdog Uggie), to save the damsel in distress. Valentin seems to have it all on the surface. Admiration of the people and the press, a successful career and a beautiful home.
While doing press for his new film, he has a chance encounter with a fan on the street when they bump into each other. The fan is young Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) who dreams of being an actress herself. Her encounter with Valentin puts her on the front page of Variety with the headline asking, 'Who's that girl?' Both George and Peppy feel a strange connection to each other the first time they meet. But she is just a lowly extra while he's the star of the film and also married.
But his marriage to his wife Doris (Penelope Miller) is unhappy as they barely communicate. She sits around drawing funny mustaches and faces to his photos. Meanwhile there a big change coming to the future of films. Kinograph boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) shows George a sound test they're working on as silent film will move to the talkies. George doesn't take this seriously enough and laughs at the test, walking out.
George doesn't realize how dire the situation will turn for him. There is no more work for him as Kinograph Studios stops work on all silent films. George is defiant, choosing instead to finance and direct his own ode to silent films, Tears of Love. He puts in all his money which is never a good sign. Meanwhile, as George's life and career turns downhill, Peppy's life is on the upswing.
In a lovely montage, we see how bit by bit, role by role, she puts in the hard work that gets to the top to become Kinograph's top billed stars. Peppy deserves all her success but she hasn't forgotten George and the chemistry they shared. They meet at the studios and we see the difference in their status now. George is on the lower step, on his way out while Peppy is placed above him.
Slowly but surely, this begins to affect George. He loses all his money in the stock market crash and has to hope his film is a success. It isn't. Sitting behind her at the restaurant, he overhears an interview given by the new talkies star, Peppy Miller, where she says the talkies are the future and old must make way for the new. He gets up and tells Peppy, "I have made way for you." Peppy is stunned and sorry that she hurt George and vows to make it up to him.
But the downward spiral continues for George. His wife leaves him and kicks him out of that beautiful home. He is left with Jack and his valet/butler/driver Clifton (James Cromwell), both who can't see their master and friend suffering like this. He begins to drink daily to drown his sorrows and fires Clifton who he can't afford to pay anymore. In a fit of disgust and rage mixed with a lot of alcohol, he burns all his reels of his films right in his living room. But fear not, as heroic dog Jack saves the day and his master.
When Peppy finds out about George's accident, she transfers him to her house where they reunite uneasily after all these years. It is there that he learns that she has been his guardian angel all along always looking out for him. He can't handle this and runs away. At this point, I was hoping George would swallow his massive pride and look at the one good thing in his life. Thankfully he does, but not before he hits rock bottom and steps away. Dujardin enacts that last scene very well.
And finally, because of Peppy and her determination, she and George get their happy ending and we are briefly introduced to the world of sound before we say goodbye. The Artist is charming and sweet tale that shows the price of changing technology can take a toll on people especially someone like George who defined himself as a silent film star. But he too has to change with the times.
Michel Hazanavicius and his team have made a strong and solid film that changed all their careers. The Artist is a film you'll be recommending to people.
Written and Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, Cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman, Edited by Michel Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion, Music by Ludovic Bource.
Additional cast: Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Malcolm McDowell.
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