Cannes 2011 Review: Michel Hazanavicius' B&W Silent Film 'The Artist'
by Alex Billington
May 16, 2011
In today's modern world, we're used to seeing films in color, with sound, with music, with dialogue, and sometimes even in 3D. Every once in a while a filmmaker goes black-and-white to tell a story. But before yesterday, never have I seen a modern filmmaker attempt to create a completely new B&W silent film. Not only did French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius do exactly that, but he has crafted a wonderful homage that's just wonderful and exudes an effusive love for cinema. It's called The Artist and stars French actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo and is set in the late 20s in Hollywood at the end of the silent film era.
The plot is fairly straightforward, and it's essentially a silent film all over again. George Valentin (Dujardin) is a big silent film star, but with the advent of sound and talkies, his career begins to wither away, as its a new era and no one wants to see an old star. Early on, he bumps into Peppy Miller (Bejo), a wannabe starlet who starts with small side roles and eventually becomes the new hot thing, breaking out big with the talkies. George even has a Jack Russell Terrier who follows him around is on screen in every scene he is, just like in the old days. There's a bit of a love story, but it's more of a tragedy about the downfall of an actor at the advent of technological progression. Which, I would say, is just as relevant today as it was back in the 20s.
There was just something truly magical about seeing Hazanavicius attempt, and succeed, at recreating a silent film that not only follows the same technique, but brings us deep into the world of Hollywood at the time. It's light and comical, and at times corny, but ceaselessly charming and entertaining to watch. I felt so many magnificent emotions, from delight to sadness to pure joy, and I never stopped smiling from start to finish. The Artist has a kind of wonderful, classic feeling that all cinephiles can and should love that also gives us the opportunity to revel in a time and place that we really don't see much of on screen nowadays.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis is one of my all-time favorite films, a classic silent film, and being able to spend more time exploring that kind of world and that kind of cinema, something which I admittedly haven't had too much experience with before, was an exciting experience for me. I don't just love this film, I adore it, and there's not much I can be critical about. Why complain about the running time when it's the love for classic cinema and the brilliant, flawless execution that already makes this a masterpiece? I cannot suggest it enough and truly hope everyone takes the opportunity to catch The Artist at some point during its release.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 10 out of 10