The Best Picture Project – The Artist (2011)

Directed and Written by Michel Hazanavicius

Starring Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo

Unlike my wife and daughter, I am no movie snob.  For my wife, she refuses to see anything that requires subtitles – so no Truffaut and Herzog for her.  For my daughter, anything in black and white is out the window, which means just about any movie made before 1960 is out.  It makes me sad to think of the great films her snobbery will deprive her of.

Anyway, though I’m not snob, and though I love silent films as much as anybody – my particular favorite is The General, though I’m also partial to Harold Lloyd – I’ve got to acknowledge that watching a silent film is exhausting.  Unlike a ‘talkie’, where the story is told in sounds and images, silent films require so much more attention and fidelity to the image on screen that it can literally where you out.

This, ultimately, is my problem with The Artist.

It’s a joke in my family that whenever they ask me what I thought about a movie the question usually comes with a, “aside from being too long,” because it goes without saying that most movies I see I think could benefit from some judicious trimming.  The King’s Speech was one such film, The Artist another, though for different reasons.  The King’s Speech, because it was repetitive, The Artist simply because a silently movie that is longer than 80 minutes is trying to the patience and the stamina of any movie-goer (and also because it’s also repetitive).

Given how The Artist seemed to run away with Best Picture at the Oscars, I was honestly disappointed by it.  I was under the impression the film was supposed to be a comedy and aside from some comedic bits in the early-going, it was actually fairly maudlin.  Worse, it was completely predictable and felt like it was ‘hitting the numbers’ as opposed to telling its own story.  Perhaps I’m harsh in my view of it because it was such an overwhelming favorite, and it’s suffering because of expectations, but I think coming into it with no foreknowledge wouldn’t have changed my mind.

In its favor, I can say the film definitely stuck to the appropriate style.  Where another film might’ve used the silence as a gimmick, The Artist was truly filmed as if it were a silent film, adopting the mannerisms and presentation of those films.  And while the film was a bit of a let-down for me, there is no faulting the performances.  Jean Dujardin as George Valentin gave an especially charming and moving performance that obviously benefited from the silence – he’s French and has a bit of an accent that might not’ve worked in the talkie-version of this movie.  And Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller was both stunningly beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time and while I haven’t yet seen The Help – I’m woefully behind on seeing the 2011 Best Picture nominees – I can only imagine that Octavia Spencer had to have been beyond a revelation if she overcame Bejo.

As always, when it comes to movies, the proof is always in the question: would you see it again?  For The Artist, I’d say no.  Amongst the silent films I like, it’s better-than-average, but not life-changing.  Among talkies nominated in 2011 alone – in all categories – it’s better-than-average, but because it requires such attention, it would probably never get off my shelf.  I’d be more likely to settle in with Moneyball – for my money, that’s the Best Picture of 2011 – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Tree of Life than curl up with The Artist again.

For the other winners and films left to see, click here.




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