The Artist : Many reasons to go and see it

6 Nov

I’ve been waiting almost breathlessly for 6 months, teased beyond measure by the first pictures published during Cannes Festival. The movie was released a few weeks ago in France and I had to wait that long before seeing it. One’s always a little nervous when something so highly anticipated finally comes about. There’s always a chance one’s going to be sorely disappointed.

But none of this happened with this movie. Though the main actor, Jean Dujardin, usually annoys me to no end, I went to see « The Artist ». There was no way I could or would avoid that movie. Because:

– the action takes place during the 1920s and 1930s, and I’m quite fascinated by this whole ‘retro’ period. I love everything about it: fashion, music, design, History…

– it pictures the city of Los Angeles during the birth of the Movie Industry, i.e. basics for every cinema buff.

– it’s a tribute to silent cinema, with just a hint of nostalgia for all those things now gone for good; that’s a feeling one could already get by watching the trailer.

– I had a feeling it would be an ode to the « Artist », the one with a capital « A », the one who makes us dream or think, who can morph into anything, who’s capable of every wonder and excess… Of every sacrifice as well.

– Jean Dujardin’s character doesn’t talk and that way chances were big I would bear his presence on screen.

Well, let me tell you guys: that actor has tremendous talent! He thoroughly deserved the award he was given during the Festival. Of course, there’s a lot of  his usual faces, grimaces and amplified gestures going on, but the part definitely calls for it. His character, George Valentin, is a silent movies actor who cannot adapt to change (birth of talking movies) and circles the drain. His fall from grace into a hell of solitude, pride and alcohol hit me like a ton of bricks it was so deep and powerful. I suffered and shivered for him during 1 hour and 40 minutes. I found Jean Dujardin to be perfect in the part, which he approaches with obvious respect and fondness. He must have worked his butt off to dance that well. There’s a lot of work here, and his comical talent just blows in our faces, though it’s in the drama department that his genius as an actor really expresses itself.

By his side, Bérénice Bejo is a little sunshine. She literally radiates as Peppy Miller, an ambitious, resourcefull but highly likeable young woman. She’s got presence, she’s got spunk, and a great chemistry with her male counterpart. And let’s not forget the Dog: that furry fellow is one cunning little devil. His duo with Jean Dujardin really cracked me up and is very efficient. They both manage to lighten the story quite a bit.

Because « The Artist » is, most and foremost, a drama. And a good one at that. The entire team obviously worked very hard, with noteworthy dedication, to make this story work. Here, special praise is due to the supporting cast: American actors such as John Goodman or  James Cromwell playing their parts to perfection. The story is anything but ‘vintage’, though it’s a tribute to this period. A huge part of the underlying ideas are incredibly modern and forward, feminist even. It is also a love declaration to all those who, past and present, are passionate about cinema and keep it going on and on, taking chances and giving it all they have.

The Artist is also a jewel, visually speaking. Black and White isn’t everything that’s going on on screen. Perspectives, camera moves and editing give that piece of art a singular, powerful atmosphere. A few scenes are already up there in the legend department: Valentin sinking in quicksands at the time of his downfall and the Wall Street Crash of 1929, movies reels burning, Peppy driving like a madwoman in LA streets (I admit sweating quite a bit with that one), or the stupefying dream scene where Valentin is voiceless in a world filled with magnified sounds.

Here are my first fellings about this movie. I’ve read no reviews or critics prior to seeing it, I wanted emotions to be intact. And boy, oh boy! Did the movie deliver in that department! I went from tears to laughter in the blink of a (bleary) eye several times, making my head spin. This is a beautiful gift from the movie creators and staff: making us feel pure, undiluted emotions, far from exploding skyscrapers, alien robots and genetics manipulations, serial killers and masked vigilantes.

Great cinema, in love with its own history and past. Cinema keeping the dream alive. You know you’ve just seen a great movie when:

– you can’t stop babbling about it in this post

– you want to go and visit old Los Angeles (before it disappears?)

– you want to call Granny and go back to see the movie with her

PS: If « The Artist » makes it to the Academy Awards, whether it wins or not, I’ll bring the Champagne!


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