The Artist, Cannes Film Festival
Silence is golden for a fallen idol
Wednesday 18 May 2011
Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist, added to the Cannes competition at the last minute, is both a surefire crowdpleaser and a magnificent piece of film-making. Whatever else, this is also surely the most enjoyable contender for the Palme d'Or this year.
It's a silent movie set in the Hollywood of the late 1920s. The story of a Douglas Fairbanks-like movie star (Jean Dujardin) fallen on hard times, it evokes memories of everything from A Star Is Born to Citizen Kane, from Scott Fitzgerald's Pat Hobby Stories to Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon and even Charlie Chaplin's Limelight. French director Hazanavicius (best known for spy spoof OSS 117) isn't the first film-maker in recent years to make a silent movie but he is doing it on a far grander scale than any of his predecessors.
As the film begins, George Valentin (Dujardin) is at the top of his game. Fans swoon over his every public appearance. He is a dashing and charming figure with a sense of mischief. He is accompanied everywhere by his pet mutt (a Jack Russell which looks a very likely winner of the annual Palm Dog award for best canine performance in Cannes). By chance, he meets an up-and-coming starlet called Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).
The trajectory of the film is predictable enough. The talkies arrive. Valentin's career crashes, the ruthless studio boss (John Goodman) decides the public wants "fresh meat" and Peppy Miller becomes Hollywood's latest It Girl.
The Artist could easily have seemed very kitsch indeed. Thankfully, though, this is far more than just a knowing and ironic pastiche of old Hollywood silents. It is heartfelt too. Even the most ridiculous scenes – for instance, the dog's heroic rescue of a man caught in a fire – seem dramatic rather than absurd. Dujardin's performance is a revelation. He has the carefree quality and the athleticism of a Fairbanks in his pomp.
Early on, the lack of spoken dialogue is disconcerting. However, the pacing is so brisk that audiences will quickly forget they're watching a silent movie. Formally, the film is a tour de force.
Ludovic Bource's rousing music, the brio of the performances and Guillaume Schiffman's luminous black and white cinematography help draw spectators in. "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!" Gloria Swanson (playing an old silent era diva) famously proclaimed in Sunset Boulevard. Watching The Artist, we know exactly what she means.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre