BFI London Film Festival 2011: ‘The Artist’


A categorical success at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is a gloriously executed love letter to the silent era of Hollywood, featuring an award-winning performance by Jean Dujardin (Best Actor at Cannes). A thoroughly enjoyable romp, The Artist looks set to be a crowd favourite at this year’s BFI London Film Festival and a major contender for the Best Picture Oscar at next year’s Academy Awards.

Whilst an undeniable homage to the glitz and glamour of 1920s and 30s cinema, The Artist is more than just a nostalgic trip down memory lane. We follow George Valentin (Dujardin), a silent movie megastar whose fame has become threatened by the advent of the ‘talkies’. At first he dismisses this cinematic evolution as little more than a fad, thrusting himself into his own pet project – a directorial debut called ‘Tears of Love’, a romantic adventure set within the jungles of Africa.

His directorial debut is a resounding flop, failing to draw the crowds away from new girl Peppy Miller’s (Bérénice Bejo) motion picture ‘Beauty Spot’. The financial failings of his misguided venture into directing, coupled with the stock market crash leave him with nothing than faded memories of fame and adulation.

Hazanavicius has lovingly recreated both the feel and tone of silent cinema, creating a beautiful celebration of the medium through effortless editing techniques and a sublime use of lighting. The film’s orchestral score perfectly heightens the drama on-screen, limiting the use of title cards to express the stories dialogue, helping the film’s pace remain fluid at all times.

Whilst an undeniably sumptuous experiment in recreating the methods used during the silent era, it’s actually The Artist’s wonderful story of love and loss which makes it such a resounding success. Recalling the magic of films such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and Sunset Blvd. (1950), the film’s deeply moving romantic plot between an aspiring actress and a washed up actor (blinded by his own indignant pride) is bursting with charming humour and heartbreaking suspense.

The performance of Dujardin, Bejo and John Goodman – as a studio mogul – are all sublime and only overshadowed by perhaps one of the greatest animal actors to ever grace the big screen (Uggie, as George Valentin’s incredibly loyal canine sidekick). Recreating the muted gestures and emphasised pantomime acting associated with the era; both actors convey their roles fantastically, inciting the same admiration from the audience that Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin must have achieved.

Hazanavicius’ The Artist will leave you dumbstruck, not just through its powerful amalgamation of imagery and sound but the delightfully amusing and emotionally engrossing story at its core. A joyous and enchanting adventure into the golden age of Hollywood that’s impossible not to fall madly in love with.

Patrick Gamble

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