Staff Review/ The Artist

Cornerhouse AV Technician Dave Petty reviews The Artist

It’s rather hard to review a film with a sense of objectivism when already it’s tipped for Oscar glory (a Best Picture nomination at the very least seems a shoo-in). No matter what I say, people seem to have already made up their minds that The Artist is a minor masterpiece, a breath of fresh air in a cinematic era that has become clogged with unnecessary superheroes, pointless pirates and transforming robots. And it gives me great pleasure to say that I agree with them; The Artist really is what it’s being touted as – a crowd-pleasing, unabashed barrel of fun coated in a silver glitter sheen that should bring a tear to the eye of even the hardiest cinemagoer.

At the heart of this black and white, silent love story lies Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), two actors in the ascendance and descent respectively. As Peppy – with a little beauty treatment from George – makes her acting presence felt in the new wave of ‘talking pictures’, George finds himself stubbornly refusing to play ball with the studio execs, ending up down on his luck and struggling to wave the flag solo for silent cinema. But with Uggie, his loyal Jack Russell, on standby to pull him out of the doldrums, all is not lost… or is it? This is a film that toys with the emotions to such an extent that you’re genuinely never sure where things could end up, no matter how many narrative conventions you feel the film will surely stick to.

Both the leads are routinely superb, as are the supporting cast – John Goodman and James Cromwell are note-perfect throughout as the studio boss and Valentin’s chauffeur. Also, it has to be said that the film must have been somewhat of a challenge for all involved, when you consider how rigidly it sticks to its silent conventions. With intertitles and a full orchestral score, it’s a film that could have so easily descended into a technical exercise, losing most of its charm in the process. But director Michel Hazanavicius manages to keep things on track right to the very end, never losing sight of what’s important – strong leads you genuinely care about, and a dog that should be up for Best Supporting Actor if there’s any justice in the world.

If ever there was a film of 2012 that deserves to be seen at the cinema – nay, in a theatre – it’s The Artist. And yes I get my nerd hat out, one where it can be shown properly masked to its true aspect ratio of 1.38:1; our Cinema 1 should do the trick.

Cornerhouse Young LiveWire Critic James Martin reviews The Artist

The story is one which we have all encountered before, in one form or another. The proud man, once a star, falling into anonymity, while someone else, once just another person in the crowd, overtakes him. But, as is almost always true, it is not so much the story as the way it is told that really counts at the end of the day. If the story is great and told well, so much the better.

That is rarely achieved, but here, with Michel Hazanavicius’ new film The Artist, we encounter something of a phenomenon. Set during the transition from the silent era to that of the ‘talkie’, and charting the changing fortunes of silent star George Valentin (played with effortless charisma and charm by Jean Dujardin) and the unknown – but vivacious, talented and breathtakingly beautiful Peppy Miller (in a similarly stunning performance from Bérénice Bejo), who is set to take Hollywood by storm (while Valentin’s career begins to collapse), this is deliciously akin to the best of the ‘golden oldies’ that our elders insist never get made anymore.

Hazanavicius knows his stuff, from the silent movie techniques in presenting visual humour and plot twists (combined to great effect in a tense sequence towards the end), to the history of cinema and its great classics. Of course, no one can fail to notice the likenesses to masterpieces such as Singin’ In The Rain, but Hazanavicius’ great gift lies in the fact that he only makes respectful, indirect reference to these milestones, instead of plagiarising them. The Artist is distinctly original, blending a number of genres effortlessly with incredible skill and style, whilst maintaining the spirit of the classics that the director so adores. This is a true movie lover’s dream!

I haven’t even mentioned yet that The Artist is presented as a silent film. In the one sense, to mention it isn’t necessary – I enjoyed watching it so much that at times, I forgot completely that this was a silent film at all. The decision is used not only to display the director’s great love and passion for cinema (and indeed, as far as love letters from filmmakers to their working medium go, this is one of the most impressive I have seen in a long time), but also to explore a forgotten style and entertain a modern audience in what will be for many, using new methods. Hazanavicius uses it to explore the period that his movie is set in as well as the tragic situation of his main character, his whole life and career swinging as it did on the success of silent film.

But enough of that – even if you’re not an avid film fan, why should you go and see this? The answer: Because it’s a bloody good ride – full of humour, packed with emotion (suckers for a classic love story should be bursting with anticipation to see this movie), breathtakingly stylish (the black and white cinematography and the use of lighting and sets are sublime), surprisingly deep and genuinely tender; although full of fun and wit, we are also to find here the reliable, powerful themes of pride, loss and the loneliness and despair that often accompany great fame and a fall from it. You can’t go wrong if these are meditated on well!

I suppose, if there is one niggling thing rattling about at the back of my mind, it concerns the film’s ending. Personally, as the credits began to roll, I couldn’t help thinking that there was a short (admittedly perfunctory) scene missing off the end. The last scene as it stands is marvellous, in its own right, and artistically (forgive the pun), it is ingenious. Even so, there is no reason why it couldn’t have been followed by another short sequence, which in terms of the film’s narrative and feel (considering that this is a movie full of grand emotions and bristling energy) would have rounded it off on a more satisfactory high.

However, that is a personal quibble of miniature proportions, really only a question of personal taste. The Artist, I must say, is a magnificent film, regarded already as a modern classic, and deservedly so. It is just so refreshing to see a movie as lovingly crafted and fiercely passionate as this. Just to listen to the soundtrack on a cinema stereo system and view the wonderful dance routines towards the end on the big screen is worth the price of an admission ticket!

In short – an absolute delight in every way. Take my advice and run to see it!

The Artist continues to screen at Cornerhouse. Book your tickets and find all the times here.