Movie The Artist

December 21, 2011 by staff 

Movie The ArtistMovie The Artist, Backstage at the 1927 Hollywood premiere of his latest screen triumph, film star George Valentin — played with irresistible zest by Jean Dujardin — waits for the crowd’s response. Standing in front of the sign shushing the backstagers, he hears the applause.

We only see it, “The Artist” being a silent film (or nearly) whose story begins in the late-silent era. When Valentin takes his bow with his co-stars, female and canine, it’s clear this man’s oxygen is the love of a crowd.

“The Artist” exists also to be loved. Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius (pronounced Ha-zahn-a-vish-us) has made a beguiling jape that takes this fictional character, an amalgam of Douglas Fairbanks Sr., John Gilbert and Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood from “Singin’ in the Rain,” and presents him with every obstacle he can muster. The fickleness of the public’s changing taste; unemployment; a broken heart pushing him to the brink of tragedy. And then, after we’ve been through the wringer, a tap duet and out.

No wonder American audiences aren’t quite sure what to expect from the French import that premiered, triumphantly, at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and has topped a majority of stateside critics’ prizes this month. Is “The Artist” a screwball comedy? A sentimental melodrama? A spoof? Serious? What? Yes, yes, yes and yes. We may see Dujardin on the receiving end of an Academy Award come February. We may see Hazanavicius as well. There’s also a wonderful dog, played by a Jack Russell terrier named Uggie, who costars with Dujardin in Valentin’s swashbuckling adventures and is excellent, indeed life-saving company off screen.

“The Artist” is a pastiche with heart, sincere and rangy (too rangy in some ways). At the top of his profession, Valentin meets eager would-be starlet Peppy Miller, played by Berenice Bejo. She dreams of success, and as her stock rises at Kinograph Studios — John Goodman glowers and grins as the combustible studio head — Valentin’s stock plummets. He refuses to adapt to the onset of the talkies. He puts all his money into one last vanity showcase, darker in hue than his usual exotic diversions, and pays for it. But just when things look blackest.

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