What more can I add to the roar of applause for this fantastic film that has come out of the woodwork?  I was interested when saw the trailer this past summer.  It seemed like a crazy idea--black and white, silent, with two unknown (in North America anyways) leads.  Maybe not so much of a crazy idea for the smaller art-house circuits, but it has hit the mainstream, and now it is so highly and widely praised, and even the O word--Oscar--is being tossed around.  And it's French!  I mean, personally I think the French have made some of the finest films ever made, think of the films of Melville, Truffaut, Renoir, Malle, and Godard.  Here is another film to add to the amazing canon of French cinema.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo)
Now, what makes Michel Hazanavicius' THE ARTIST so great?  Well, for starters it has a wonderful yet simple story: Hollywood 1927, silent movie star, George Valentin (Jean DuJardin) is at the height of his fame and prestige--right on the eve of the adoption of sound in cinema.  Valentin meets a promising young starlet, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), on set one day.  George refuses to believe that sound is the new way, but the demand for silent actors sharply drops off, and his career nosedives.  In contrast, Peppy and her cute beauty spot and her "talkies" takes off.  With his fame and fortune gone and his life in the dumps, George spirals into depression.  But young Peppy never forgets the man who inspired her to pursue her acting career in the first place.

It is a straightforward plot, but it is so poignant in so many ways.  When we came out of the theatre, my girlfriend Maria said "That's exactly what Hollywood needed." And I couldn't agree more!  With all the talk about digital this and 3-D that, it is easy to lose sight of what is most important: the story.  George fought and lost a battle to the new sound generation.  Many are fearing today that "2-D" films are on their way out, along with celluloid film itself, replaced by high-tech digital and computer motion capture devices.  But despite what technology is de rigueur, the main thing required in film is good story and characters.  One can add as much CGI or 3-D effects, but if it does not have that central idea driving it, it is dead in the water.  Sure, there are many great new digitally filmed (including this one, if I'm not mistaken!) and even 3D films out there!  But for ever great one like THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, there are ten crappy CLASH OF THE TITANSs etc.  I may sound like an old fuddy duddy, but there is battle going on in the film world today.  The hype about the technology is so deafening, it's easy to forget why we are all there in the cinema in the first place.  We want to be entertained.  And THE ARTIST is one of those great, smart films (Oh and did I mention it is also hilarious?) that comes along and sweeps you away into the magic of it all, reminding you that in the end all you need is a simple black and white image.  This film knows what it is, and at times draws attention to its own silence.  Of course saying it is a silent film isn't exactly true, it isn't entirely silent, just like the original silent films that were always accompanied by music, or someone performing sound effects.  There is accompanying music, which is subtle, but so effective (at the climax Bernard Hermann's "Scene d'amour," from Hitchcock's VERTIGO!).  And it also makes smart use of a few sound effects a key moments.  And then it uses deafening silence at other key moments. 

I really feel like this is an important film.   I think it is a milestone in cinema, one of those moments where audiences the world over will surprise themselves.  They might acquiesce and find themselves possibly enjoying a French, black-and-white, and silent film.  I've heard that in parenting one finds themselves at times with "teachable moments."  I think this is a cinematic teachable moment.  It is a film that challenges one to reconsider their preconceived notions.  I'm sure that if this becomes nominated for an Oscar (Best Picture?), and heaven forbids, wins (!), it will have many people scratching their heads.  But those will be the people who have either not seen it, or are so stubborn as to refuse to open their minds, to reconsider what they know, or at the very least, refuse to let in the magic of cinema.  But those who get it, who "get" THE ARTIST, who are willing to let something foreign (literally and figuratively) into their eyes and ears will be rewarded.  This is a movie about learning how to say "yes" to new things, and like George Valentin, when you do, and take a chance, you will be rewarded.

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