Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Artist: A Cinematic Masterpiece

The moment I've been eagerly anticipating all year (since late 2011) has finally arrived. On Sunday, in the wee hours of the morning, I watched The Artist. Is there even a need for a grand introduction? Based on my numerous exuberant outbursts for the sake of the film, I think not. (Exuberant?) Plus, I posted a trailer for the film. How often do I do that? Not often enough. Believe me when I say I literally could not contain myself whilst viewing this work of art. The entire time I was all smiles. Meaning I couldn't stop smiling. What you can expect from the following post is a spirited and gratifying account of the film known simply as The Artist. Allow me to begin by saying that the title of the film is very suitable, for the main character is, indeed, an artist, as well as the many silent film stars, such as the one he portrays. They relied on solely their facial expressions to exhibit marvelous acting, just as Jean Dujardin has brilliantly executed in this film. But we'll get to that later. Of course, per my promise not to reveal any major points in any movie described, especially one so wonderful, I shall not reveal any major points in this film. A given, I'm sure. Therefore, I shall only observe the overall quality of the film. Did I even need to tell you that? What a waste of time. Also, I'll be referring to The Artist as a "film" rather than a movie because a "movie" is like any other, while a "film" is unique in its magnificence. I just gave another introduction, didn't I? Moving on to the film!

What a pair!
The Artist takes place during the late 1920s, when silent films were in its prime, the single source of entertainment, and their stars were the idols of the decade. George Valentin (played superbly by Jean Dujardin) was the biggest star of them all, admired by the entire public, and was henceforth rather arrogant and excessively proud. Following the massive applause of yet another film of the actor's, he is surrounded by adoring fans and classy paparazzi. I call them "classy" because they aren't taking photographs for scandalous purposes. While Valentin is posing for the masses, an attractive, young woman falls into the famous actor, and the two immediately share a cosmic connection. The woman's name, we will later learn, is Peppy Miller (played delightfully by Berenice Bejo), but for now, the public knows her only as the mysterious girl kissing famed George Valentin on the cover of Variety. Peppy is an aspiring actress, and getting jobs was made simple by her cover page on Variety; everyone wants to know "who's that girl"!

Again, I will not be revealing any key points in the film. Enjoy it for yourselves!

Of course, the era of silent films will not last forever, and neither will their stars. Primarily George Valentin. Peppy Miller, however, is a major rising star. From playing Chorus Girl #2 to being the star of her very own film, Peppy is the freshest, brightest star of them all. Valentin, on the other hand, struggles to get roles anywhere, for his pride prevents him from appearing in the "talkies". As time progresses, Valentin falls from society rapidly, accompanied only by his faithful chauffeur, who is the best friend he can ever have. The friendship between the two characters is wonderfully heartwarming and sweet. Again, watch it for yourself! During Valentin's downfall, Peppy Miller, though she is a huge star, is infatuated with him and acts as if she were still an adoring fan among the crowd. Every time she encounters him, she savors the moment, wishing to become closer to him even when he has nothing but his whimsical dog. Her adoration, which can be nothing but true love, for Valentin is affectionately evident throughout the film. He, also, develops passionate feelings for Peppy, growing from curious attraction to genuine, mutual love. Well, I believe that's all I can tell about the film without giving away the entire story.

Well, Academy, we're waiting.
Jean Dujardin proves to be a marvelously talented actor, evident in his remarkable ability to express himself solely through his appearance. From his wide and charismatic grins to his seducing arch of an eyebrow, he is simply irresistible. Plus, I just love his look and manner about him. From the moment I first saw him in the trailer, I simply fell in love with the actor. That just increased my enjoyment of the film, if possible. After watching this film, I am positive in my desire to see him win the Best Actor statuette this year. Why? Only a truly skilled performer can pull off not saying a word in the entire film and still provide one of the greatest performances of the year. It would also be refreshingly delightful if such a decision was made on the Academy's part, for if Jean Dujardin actually won, there would be a whole lot of controversy. Yet another reason to hope for his triumph!

What can I say? She's charming.
Berenice Bejo is absolutely delightful in her role as the ambitious Peppy Miller. (Her name is ideal, as she is super cheerful with a pure heart.) One would believe her to be maliciously competitive, but all she really wants to do is act. Her rising star-status came on its own, she didn't commit any illicit acts to get where she is. (Unlike most actresses nowadays.) Berenice Bejo's on-screen chemistry with Jean Dujardin is immensely absorbing, a perfect cinematic match. (It helped that I watched them in OSS 117 beforehand.) Peppy Miller is undeniably in love with George Valentin, and it is evident through her captivation by him whenever she sees him, even when he's at his lowest. Again, see it for yourself! While I very much enjoyed Bejo's performance, the Oscar belongs to Octavia Spencer this year. Though it truly is an honor to be nominated regardless of her chances.

Typically, I don't notice the director's job in movies. Basically, if the movie is good, the director did a good job. With The Artist, however, I somehow acknowledge the director's work, and applaud his brilliant performance. Michel Hazanavicius did an utterly marvelous job directing this picture, as well as writing the original screenplay for it. Why emphasize "original"? Well, how brilliant is the idea for a black-and-white silent film in our modern era? People may claim anyone could have done it, but would people have watched it if it were done by another? (If it was a high-profile director, such as Woody Allen, most definitely.) But that is not the question here. (Then what is?) The fact that a director, unknown in the United States, could create such a glorious film that everyone wants to watch is the remarkable feat itself. This being said, I would have no problem whatsoever if Michel Hazanavicius won the Best Director prize, as he truly was the greatest director this year. As for Best Original Screenplay, while I wouldn't mind if he won, that award belongs to Woody Allen.

I cried at this scene.
Worth mentioning, I think.
For those skeptics out there, who have trouble believing that a completely silent film can actually be entertaining, think of the advantage that can come from silence. Without any speech, it allows the viewer to interpret the film from their own perspective, analyze the characters by their own judgment, rather than be told all that with direct dialogue. (Yes, you can finally have the chance to think during a film.) Also, a silent film has the ability to display symbolism, and believe me when I say there is an abundance of it to be discovered in The Artist. I, for one, received immense enjoyment from viewing this magnificent film (if I haven't said it enough already), especially the many forms of gorgeous imagery that provides a story, free for subjective perception. (I might make it sound like an English lecture by mentioning personal characterization and symbolism, but I'm exposed to that on a daily basis. Apparently, it's starting to shine through into my private life.) Regardless, Michel Hazanavicius presents these cinematic techniques flawlessly in The Artist.

And the Oscar goes to...
The Artist is an ode to the glory heydays of 1920s Hollywood. It is a magnificent film, worthy of the recognition its getting, as well as the renowned title of Best Picture of 2011, and definitely as one of the greatest films ever created. Beyond the acting and film's story, the cinematography (picture quality, also) and musical score are a wonder as well. The grainy quality of the black-and-white picture is just part of the love letter Michel Hazanavicius composed to the golden age of cinema. Ludovic Bource wrote a delightfully catchy tune to accent the film throughout, providing a pleasurable after taste for long after the film has ended. And yet another act of brilliance reveals itself: I never wanted the film to end. As I was watching, fooling myself into thinking it would last forever, I knew that it wouldn't. And it physically pained to me realize this. However, the film soothed me into acceptance, leaving me completely satisfied with the touching conclusion. Much like the only words spoken in the film, I encourage people of all ages to watch The Artist "with pleasure"! 

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