Six months ago, if you had asked me if I were interested in seeing a silent black and white film...a NEW film...I would have turned you down. I mean really? In the days of big budget, special effects and CGI, who would even have the guts to make such a thing anyway?
Michel Hazanavicious, backed by the Weinstein Company, that's who. And it appears that the director's boldness has paid off in spades. Jean Dujardin has already won the Best Actor Award in Cannes, where it premiered, and has been nominated for six Golden Globes in 2011, the most any one movie received.
Dujardin plays George Valentin, a successful but self-absorbed silent movie star who runs into a Hollywood hopeful Peppy Miller (played by an ebullient Berenice Bejo), making a random but fated connection.
As Peppy earns her way into the movies through her dancing and contagious smile, and starts to climb her way to stardom through the emergence of sound film, George becomes a has-been and loses everything he owns. That connection between the two actors is never broken though, and in a melodramatic and heart-warming climax, this one will leave you with a great big grin on your face knowing you have just witnessed something special.
It was amazing to me how much you can understand from good acting and facial expressions, devoid of words. After perhaps 10 minutes of hearing nothing but music, I completely forgot this was a silent film and was swept away by the romance and nostalgia of it all. George was dashing, Peppy was gorgeous (she absolutely LIGHTS up the screen), and to add flavor there was even a loyal little Jack Russell terror and a devoted chauffeur (James Cromwell). We even were treated with a little John Goodman as the studio director.
I was also impressed with the director's clever slight-of-hand at using sound within the movie to symbolize the materialization of "talkies". I won't go into the details, but was delighted with this creative little twist.
Also contrary to everything modern cinema is about, the movie only ran an hour and 40 minutes. Perfect. Admittedly, it has its share of predictability, in keeping with silent movies of the 1920's (thinking of the woman tied up on the train tracks only to be saved at the last minute by her knight in shining armor) but that is exactly why you will leave the theater smiling. This is what movies used to be about.
The rating is PG-13 for one fun bird-flipping scene, some alcohol consumption and a threat of violence. My kids (aged 13 and 12) loved it. The release of The Artist has been limited thus far (only shown for one week at our only indie theater), but when it gets multiple Oscar nominations (and I promise you it will) there may be a chance for a wider audience to experience this magical film.