So, a year after seemingly winning every award going and grabbing every headline possible I finally made it to The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius’ love story both about and, seemingly to, silent cinema and cinema in general.
To be honest going in I wasn’t sure what to expect and I am glad I waited for the fuss to die down to watch the movie, but in the end, I was far from disappointed.
Several things struck me about the film which really serve to show how well constructed this picture is.
First is how it uses its own language to tell its story, in a way possibly more obvious than in many films, thanks to its archaic conceit of not only being a silent film (the headliner grabber) but also black and white and shot in 4:3 aspect ratio rather than any of the more modern styles.
What was especially striking about this was how Hazanavicius combined these styles with aspects of modern cinema to tell his story in a way that, while obviously using older aspects, kept the pacing of a modern movie in such a way that the story was easy to follow despite the now somewhat alien style.
This led onto the second aspect that struck me was the film’s use of visuals to make a point in a way that, to be honest, I’ve not seen used so effectively since Hitchcock.
Throughout the first half of The Artist we see reflections of Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin which culminate in a dramatic shift in the plot around the halfway mark.
What this does is add another layer that was very much overlooked upon the film’s initial release, amid the discussion of it being silent, and it’s always nice to see a film use the full range of “the language of cinema” to tell its story.
The third aspect that really struck me was the performance given by Jean Dujardin.
From the start he was totally believable as a 20’s silent movie star, he had the look, the poise, the movement and the general character that I think we all associate with the big stars of that era on-screen, but, far from being a stereotype, the film went on to broaden this character and really allow Dujardin to show off his skill.
While all the performers did a great job of telling the story without a voice, it was Dujardin who stood head and shoulders above them as, with a look or a gesture, he seemed able to convey more than many actors get across in 90 minutes with colour, sound and (more recently) 3D behind them.
The debate around 3D is another thing I think this film may well be addressing, at least along its sidelines, as we are thrown into the world of a man who is too proud to move forward and, while I still have my doubts about 3D, this raises an interesting point; is it pride and arrogance that makes some so negative about 3D? But, to be honest, I feel this is a side point in the film.
Away from making points about things The Artist tells a great story in the vein of Hollywood’s classic brand of melodrama with a bit of something for everyone from romance to psychological drama to the old favourite (more than one) bit with a dog – oh, and some tap dancing which, if the film hadn’t won me over before, it certainly did then.
So, I may be a year late to the party but I can certainly see what all the fuss was about and can only say this certainly deserved all the accolades with which it was showered (which, if you were living in a cave in awards season 2012, included Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor).
And I really hope the dog won something too, because he was great!
Now where’s my copy of Singin’ In The Rain…