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An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: The Artist (2011)

PUBLISHED: 16:59 04 October 2018

Jean Dujardin as George and Berenice Bejo as Peppy in the contemporary silent classic The Artist Photo: Entertainment

Jean Dujardin as George and Berenice Bejo as Peppy in the contemporary silent classic The Artist Photo: Entertainment

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Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

Jean Dujardin as George in the contemporary silent classic The Artist Photo: EntertainmentJean Dujardin as George in the contemporary silent classic The Artist Photo: Entertainment

The Artist; dir: Michel Hazanavicius; starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell Cert: PG (2011)

The idea of shooting a mainstream film as a black and white silent movie was always going to be regarded as somewhat audacious but for that movie to then not only win the Best Picture Oscar as well as acting, directing and costume awards but also become a box office smash is, quite frankly, outrageous but The Artist proves that classics can be made by following your heart rather than conventional wisdom.

It also proves that audiences aren’t as conservative in their tastes as you would think, providing that you give them the opportunity to try something new and market the film in the same way as you would any other potential Oscar hopeful.

Berenice Bejo as Peppy the young chorus girl aiming for the big time in the contemporary silent classic The Artist Photo: EntertainmentBerenice Bejo as Peppy the young chorus girl aiming for the big time in the contemporary silent classic The Artist Photo: Entertainment

The Artist looks and behaves as a genuine 1920s-style silent movie but without the comic cliché fast running about. Silent movies didn’t have speeded up movement, it is a fault with modern projectors being unable to handle the slower hand-cranked film speeds.

Michel Hazanavicius’ labour of love, starts off as a well-played comedy and turns into a genuinely touching drama along the way. These are people we grow to love and identify with proving what the silent cinema knew all along that you don’t always need words to tell an emotionally involving story.

These are fully rounded characters which have complex and involving lives which we get to share for a couple of hours. It’s a fast-paced story told with wit, passion and invention. It’s a real love letter to the joys of silent cinema.

Jean Dujardin as George and Berenice Bejo as Peppy in the contemporary silent classic The Artist Photo: EntertainmentJean Dujardin as George and Berenice Bejo as Peppy in the contemporary silent classic The Artist Photo: Entertainment

The film opens in 1927, George (Dujardin) is Hollywood’s top star, clearly based on Douglas Fairbanks, he swashbuckles his way through adventure blockbusters with his faithful sidekick dog Uggy. At the premiere of his latest film he meets Peppy (Bejo), a young hopeful who gets her own shot at stardom as a dancing extra in one of George’s films. His suspicious wife (Miller) isn’t happy about this.

Things go from bad to worse when the studio boss (Goodman) decides to switch to talkies. So George decides to take matters into his own hands and make his own silent film,. Meanwhile Peppy becomes a sound-movie star as George career founders. Happily, she doesn’t forget that he gave her a break.

The film has a real echo of A Star Is Born. It illustrates quite nicely the fleeting nature of fame. You may be the top star on the studio lot one day but all it takes is a flop or the fickle, changing taste of the public and you could be out in the cold while some bright-eyed youngster is enjoying the comforts of what used to be your star dressing room.

Berenice Bejo as Peppy dances with herself in The Artist Photo: EntertainmentBerenice Bejo as Peppy dances with herself in The Artist Photo: Entertainment

Hazanavicius resists the temptation to send up the genre and keeps everything very real, while at the same time allowing himself to have fun with the story. The characters may be grounded but the storytelling is lively and imaginative.

The film delves not just into the silent world of action-adventure but also comedy, echoes of film classics like Lost Weekend and Singing In The Rain as well as a surreal homage to European greats like Fellini.

Both Dujardin and Bejo are hugely engaging and appear to be having lots of fun working in a different way and this sense of adventure and their connection with one another transmits itself off the screen.

This a film is not afraid of honest emotion. The scene where Bejo’s Peppy slips her arm into George’s coat and hugs the hat stand brings both a smile to the face and a lump to the throat while Dujardin creates a character, that for all his dashing good looks and Douglas Fairbanks style bravado, is winningly insecure and we are willing him to beat his demons.

These are good people and the fact we care for them in their silent world is testament to Michel Hazanavicius’ skill as a film-maker.

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