Monday, 30 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Artist

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius

Produced by: Thomas Langmann

Screenplay by: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Jean Dujardin
Berenice Bejo

Music by: Ludovic Borce

Cinematography by: Guillaume Schiffman

Editing by: Anne-Sophie Bion
Michel Hazanavicius

Studio(s): La Petite Reine
ARP Selection

Distributed by: Warner Bros. (France)
The Weinstein Company (United States)
Wild Bunch (Worldwide)

Release date(s): May 15, 2011 (Cannes Film Festival)
October 12, 2011 (France)
December 30, 2011 (United Kingdom)
January 20, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 100 minutes

Country: France

Language: Silent (English intertitles)

Production budget: $15 million (estimated)

Box office revenue (as of publication): $40, 883, 232

Ah hoy hoy, my readership, how doth thou go? That's good, as for myself, while the slowing on the review front would indicate a certain laziness (and I must freely admit it), however I have been watching a number of movies and have a pile that keeps seeming to get bigger. As such, I have now seen The Veteran and Drive, and will be watching Troll Hunter, Senna, Insidious, Albert Nobbs, Beginners, Conan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Descendants, so needless to say I'll be busy! In keeping with these sentiments, the only thing left for me on the matter is to keep your eyes posted!

So, the movie up for digestion today is The Artist, the film which seems to have stolen just about everyone's heart. The success that this film has achieved, being a French-made silent film that has received awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes (why I appease the idea that they are an award ceremony of any significance, I do not know), and has received numerous nominations from the BAFTAs, the French Cesars and the Academy Awards. As a fan of the silent film medium, I was looking forward to seeing this from both a reviewing standpoint and purely for personal pleasure. I missed the opportunity to see this in the Queen's Film Theatre a number of weeks ago, believe it or not, due to it being sold out. Although disappointed at not getting to see the film, I left satisfied in the knowledge that there is indeed a market for silent cinema. In The Artist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent film star and happens upon a chance encounter with a young fan by the name of Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). As time goes by, Miller becomes an actress, and with the arrival of the talkies, her status begins to eclipse that of Valentin, who refuses to take sound film seriously and as a result his status declines. I'm not going to go into any more detail: all you need to know is 'one star declines while another rises.' There, hopefully I've done a decent job of selling that!

So, to start off with what is good about The Artist, I must flag up writer-director Michael Hazanavicius. Now, I have never seen any of his previous films, but the man has earned my complete and utter respect. Not only does he deserve praise for having the guts to pull off a silent film in a day and age when most people don't have patience for subtitles, never mind a completely silent picture, but also in making a silent picture that is highly accessible and that anyone could watch. It is made with such conviction that you don't question from about a minute or two in that you are watching a silent picture: you are simply watching a great film. Also, the way in which he structures his script to work around the use of sound as a storytelling device is very inventive, providing for some of the year's most memorable film moments. This brings me swiftly on to the next point I'd like to discuss, because as you know there is no such thing as an entirely silent film. Ludovic Bource is in the unenviable position of having to maintain the film's heartbeat with a consistent rhythm and pace that is non-intrusive. Far from intrusive, it almost invites a viewer participation. It does exactly what a score should do, and that is capture the mood of what is going on in the story, and Bource wisely does not force himself on the viewer. Listening to this score, in my mind I was Gene Kelly in Singin' In The Rain, bouncing around with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. Honestly, if I was in the cinema by myself, I would have been up on my feet dancing. Bource's work is nothing less than terrific and is a leading contender for best music of 2011. Also, with regards to sound editing/mixing, the use of certain sound techniques as storytelling methods is masterful. Now, to put things in a bit of context, during 2011 I discovered that I have hypersensitivity towards sound, which probably explains my general grumpiness at film scores, and whoever said knowledge is power was talking balderdash, as my hypersensitivity only seems to have increased with the lack of ignorance. As I mentioned earlier, your ears get accustomed to the film's sound pretty quickly, but there is a scene (which I don't want to spoil) that breaks from the established sound. This deviation unnerved me so much (and feel free to laugh) that I felt more intensely frightened during The Artist than any horror film I've seen this year. These deviations, which occur infrequently, so as to not make the film seem gimmicky, and quite obviously are meant to have these effects, my writing form being a fine example of the desired audience emotions. Also, being a silent picture, there is a greater emphasis on performance being a key part to storytelling. As such, I was very pleased to see that the film boasted many fine performances. Jean Dujardin is excellent as Valentin, depicting a fully-rounded character whose every surface we get to scrutinise. It is a very naked performance in the sense that nothing is simply window-dressing, but rather based on pure emotion and getting into the skin of his character. Though a brilliant romantic lead in silent film, we see Valentin also as a stubborn, charismatic, if slight aloof character, and it is through the power of Dujardin's performance that we are able to understand the various sides to him. Also splendid is Berenice Bejo as the simply charming Peppy Miller. Bouncy, full of confidence and life, Bejo completely inhabits the movie-star persona that Miller assumes as time goes by. Importantly though, we also get to see more than simply a movie-star, but also a vulnerable and slightly insecure young woman whose public image is perhaps more than a little misleading. In a lesser capacity, John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller shine, but I must pay a little attention to Uggie the dog. Sweet and humorous, he makes for a great sidekick to Dujardin's Valentin, has many of his own memorable moments and is my front-runner for best bit-part in a film in 2011. I understand I've went off on one here, but I've got a few more things I'd like to say about The Artist's pros. As far as a mise-en-scene goes, this is a fantastic piece of work. For a low-budget picture of $12 million, the production and costume designers have done a great job in believably capturing the world of late-20s Hollywood in transition. Also, Guillaume Schiffman's beautiful black-and-white cinematography does what all visual artists should aspire towards, and that is tell a story in a visual medium visually. The editing too is very modest, but my final compliment goes towards the overall tone of the picture. While by no means afraid to take on challenging material, and believe me, it does tread dark waters, but I can't remember the last time I enjoyed myself so much at the cinema. I had a good cry in the process and needless to say this film is the game-changer I was referring to in my previous review. It is an amazing bit of work, and while it may be hard to find, I would urge you to get your backsides down to the cinema urgently!

Wow! Looking back over that spiel, I'm surprised I got through it myself, so good luck if you've decided to skim over and read later, or the more power to you if you were able to drag yourself out of the Sarlacc's pit. For all my loving of The Artist (I know, here we go, it pains me to say it!), I must highlight one small criticism that is a little chink in the film's otherwise impenetrable armour. Frankly, I thought the film could do with less intertitles, as I felt that some of them were used to explain expository details that I had already got through all of the other elements used. I can understand their use for those perhaps not familiar with the medium, but for me, it was a niggle that was slightly irritable.

So, yes, aside from a little too many intertitles, I loved The Artist. Perhaps the novelty of a 'new' silent film has something to do with it, I'm not even going to try and feign objectivity. Nevertheless, outside of the context of the silent film medium, The Artist stands up tremendously on its own two feet. Boasting stunning performance from Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, a terrific original score from Ludovic Bource, and some beautiful visuals to behold, courtesy of the cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman, and the film's editors, production and costume designers. Finally, The Artist hails the international arrival of writer-director Michel Hazanavicius. He made some of the wisest artistic decisions that I have seen a director make for some time, and it is him we must be very thankful to, for realising and bringing to fruition this cinematic treasure.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Zapped (put a lot of effort into this review. Nevertheless, feel free to point out typos and grammatical errors. I'd rather look like I put my English degree to good use!)

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