It seems impossible to tune in to any French radio station without capturing and inevitably giving in to Ludovic Bource’s charming score for Michel Hazanavicius latest movie The Artist.
This delightful exercise in style is above all a skillfull hommage payed to the silent movies of the twenties. But beyond that, the film carefully reflects on the nature of this 7th art, letting us rediscover the magic of its beginnings and the wonder of powerful, purely visual storytelling. Also, there is something terribly refreshing about the success of a film that stands against everything the studio system has become since, and that appears to have revealed a nostalgic yearning in its enthused audience.
The plot is a classic one, or has become classic overtime. It chronicles the beguiling story of two movie actors whose hearts and careers cross tragically. Jean Dujardin, a mezmerizing composite of Valentino and Fred Astair, plays an older, silent movie star who haplessly chooses to dismiss a career in talkies and fades into oblivion while a young dancer (the delightful Bérénice Bejo) finds unprecedented success as the new “it” girl in the world of sound.
The first half is bewitching. Through some thrilling leg action, and a series of suggestive takes in a movie-within-the-movie, the film shows with economy and intensity George Valentin and Peppy Miller’s budding love (Peppy’s playful and tender caress of Valentin’s tailcoat is likely to go down as one of the most expressively sensual scenes in romantic comedy). The second half sadly loses some of its rhythm and magic, as it slumps along with Valentin’s sombre decline.
Still, the film is an enchantment, a throwback to the splendour, heroics and emotional candour of the time, and one that will leave you a little spellbound, a little sentimental, and wistfully humming its music for some time after…