The Artist review

It's perhaps strange to think that in 2011 a silent, black and white film is getting rave reviews, as if it had single-handedly reinvented cinema. In fact, The Artist is at its heart as simple and good-natured as its predecessors, almost a century ago. Then again, given some of the dross served up at the multiplexes these days maybe it's not such a surprise after all.

In Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a star of the silent movie era. After the premiere of his latest feature, a young female fan and wannabe actress, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), makes it onto the front page of Variety magazine and soon finds herself acting with George. But with the advent of the talkies, the two find their career paths diverging, Peppy's on the rise and George's going the other way as the industry embraces "fresh meat".

With obvious echoes of Singin' in the Rain, The Artist isn't exactly breaking new ground in terms of subject matter. But what it does brilliantly is to take the style of the silent era and apply a smattering of modern filmmaking techniques and sense of humour to wonderful effect. The lack of dialogue (a few expositionary intertitles aside) is a reminder of how well a story can be told through visuals alone - and how refreshing this is too.

Far from "mugging to camera" as Peppy refers to silent cinema in an interview about talkies, both Bejo and Dujardin are subtlety personified when the script demands it and prove to be a charming pair. Dujardin has the matinee idol looks and combined with his physical comedy and dancing skills comes across like a cross between Gene Kelly and Errol Flynn. Bejo meanwhile is blessed with both beauty and a talent for comic acting.

Upstaging both of them though is Uggy the dog, a charismatic and superbly trained Jack Russell who is at George's side throughout his slide into anonymity and despair. He's the canine equivalent of Clifton (James Cromwell), George's unstintingly faithful butler and both warm the heart with their very presence. Also providing excellent support is John Goodman as the film director who, unlike George, successfully moves from one film era to the next.

The Artist is a love story, a comedy and a drama. It's both an homage to silent cinema and a terrific example of it all at the same time, and is made with such obvious love for the era that it makes the whole experience an utterly joyful one. It won't appeal to everyone - if you liked Transformers 2, for example, this probably isn't for you. But if you have an ounce of soul and want to be charmed in an old-fashioned way, then I urge you to seek out The Artist. A true delight.

The Artist at IMDb

Justin Bateman is a Screenjabber contributor

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