Genre: Silent/Black-and-White /Comedy-Drama/Romance.
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell and John Goodman.
Running Time: 100 mins.
Seen At: Didsbury.
On: Saturday, 28th January, 2012.
With awards season in full flow, and both the Bafta and Oscar ceremonies fast approaching, an interesting observation to make, after the release of last week’s Academy-Award nominations, is that the two films with the highest number of nods – The Artist and Hugo, both revolve around exploring the inception of cinema.
Obviously proving a popular choice of subject matter in Hollywood – the birthplace of that most beloved of art forms – the motion picture, so it’s perfect that this is a film about the movies, and more specifically, all about movie-making.
The elements which have been added, or rather taken away here, are words and colour. This is a wonderfully authentic, black-and-white, near-silent (albeit for a few very important words right at the end), celebration of the industry’s golden age, in a similar mould to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s second collaboration Ed Wood, in 1994.
Director Michel Hazanavicius’s decision to go down this classic, age-old route serves several functions. It reinforces the fact that you don’t always require dialogue to tell a simple, fantastic story such as this certainly is. The deeply nostalgic, retrospective novelty appeal in the way that it’s made in the interests of posterity, really distinguishes it from its contemporaries, and, it really feels like a lost gem, straight out of the archives from nineteen twenty-seven Hollywood. The result is truly exceptional. Absolutely joyous all the way through, it’s the ultimate in an uplifting, endlessly entertaining cinematic experience.
At its romantic heart, it’s a love story, and the two French leads who play the couple, have gone from relative unknowns to now being catapulted to superstardom.
The wonderful Jean Dujardin is George Valantin, the number one Hollywood star of the silent movie era. Together with his brilliant dog Uggie, they prove to be a seemingly unbeatable double-act. Uggie should also win an Oscar in my opinion, his adorable personality really shines through, thanks to the amount of amazing tricks he performs, including playing dead. There’s a wonderful scene set at the breakfast table, where George and Uggie mirror each other’s actions in perfect unison, while sporting the same innocent ‘puppy dog-eyed’ expressions on their faces. In fact, expression is a key aspect to the film’s monumental success. All the cast, particularly Dujardin, possess being so gifted and expressive with their faces, that what they’re feeling is made so clear without the need for words. They’re a master class in mime. It’s as if Dujardin were a product of the twenties, with flashes reminiscent of Chaplin or Keaton.
The bright, optimistic young starlet Peppy Miller (a bubbly Berenice Bejo) is initially a fan of George’s, later hired as a dancer and capturing his heart, much to the disapproval of his stern, disparaging wife Doris (a suitably austere Penelope Ann Miller).
Soon though, it’s Peppy rather than George who’s flavour-of-the-month, with the inevitable arrival of the new phenomenon dubbed as: the ‘talkie’. Refusing to adapt with the changing times, his popularity dwindles and he’s forced out of work. Can Peppy save him...?
Many clever moments of imagery are utilized. One sees Peppy alone in George’s dressing room, pretending to be arm-in-arm with him, but really putting her own arm in his coat on the coat-stand. Another, has George literally ‘reflecting’ on his descent from stardom in a shop window, where his head just fits into the tuxedo and top-hat on display, attire to which he was once synonymous.
Artistically, the film greatly recaptures some fantastically intricate period detail. Peel-eyed viewers will notice that the famous Hollywood sign reads ‘Hollywoodland’ here, and the quest for authenticity even boils down to the Variety newspapers and magazines of the time, that people are seen reading.
Ludovic Bource has composed an extraordinary soundtrack. The glockenspiel-led main theme is extremely lively and memorable, and the score throughout revels in every snap of a clapperboard or ascending strum of a harp as a door opens. Bernard Herrman’s famous love theme from Vertigo is even used, and fits perfectly.
In terms of genre, another part of this film’s appeal is its crossover of themes. It is both comedically very funny and deeply moving by turns, but most of all heart-stoppingly romantic. It also fully embraces its musical sensibilities; with two breathtaking tap-dance routines that are simply a joy to watch. The film’s two stars both have a great physicality and musicality during those set-pieces – they’re the new Fred and Ginger! The phrase: ‘They don’t make them like they used to’ is no longer true – they do now! This is an amazing, charming movie, one that I think will be the most likely to win the Best Picture Oscar – it’s deservedly taken the world by storm!
Rating: * * * * *