Crème de la' Crème
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell and Uggie the dog
Director/Scriptwriter: Michel Hazanavicius
Composer: Ludovic Bource
Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman
The Weinstein Company
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 110 minutes
A silent movie about making silent movies. How luscious can you get. This screenplay by director/scriptwriter Michel Hazanavisius combines elements of John Barrymore/Douglas Fairbanks films, Fred and Adele Astaire, and William Powell and Myrna Loy. In silent films, body language is purposely exaggerated and this even carries to the Jack Russell terrier who not only steals his scenes but could probably write a script, too. As the can-we-find-love stars, Jean Dujardin (as George Valentin) and Berenice Bejo (as Peppy Miller) take us on a ride through what constitutes Hollywood---the continuous rise and fall of actors. It's a roller-coaster made up of dreams, talent, good looks, hard work, luck and an innate sense of what the audience wants. In the end, fans decide who becomes a star.
"The Artist" begins in the late 1920's where George Valentin is top star at Kinoscope Films, where John Goodman is the head man. One day, George accidentally meets a starlet, Peppy, and there is an instant attraction. George is married to Penelope Ann Miller (no relation) but the marriage is going downhill. George has two faithful friends, his dog and his butler (James Cromwell). A dog is not only man's best friend, but can be his only friend. The talkies are now on the horizon and this scares George half to death. Goodman hires Peppy who quickly rises to the top as George's star goes down. Pretty soon, he is out of money, marriage is over, and he's living in a small apartment still tended to by the dog and the butler. Here, the film gets serious as George is despondent and takes to drinking with dire consequences. Peppy, in the background, helps and when George finds out he is furious and fires Cromwell, who is also Peppy's friend. There are life decisions to be made now and will George make them? He doesn't think talking pictures will stay, but through the Depression and into the 1930's, they are still in Hollywood and the country, while the silents are a thing of the past.
The original script by Michel Hazanavicius literally sparkles. The subtitles are sparse in language as it should be. You catch a bit of familiar melody such as "Swing Low" in Ludovic Bourse's soundtrack, watch Peppy tap dance like Ginger Rogers, the dog's antics are like Asta and Rin Tin Tin, John Goodman is pompous as were the film producers of that time, James Cromwell is an elegant butler in uniform and black and white seems natural. You know that colored pictures are just over the horizon and that could be yet another film.
"The Artist" refers to any of the cast who would have to be artists to shine in silent black and white. Settings bring the audience into the past and this is reminiscent of Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," where we see what came before and understand how progress creates new environments. The soundtrack is an actor by itself and instrumentation and melodies change as fast as Peppy dances. The musicians of the silent pictures were artists unto themselves. Watch for this film at Oscar nomination time.
Copyright 2011 Marie Asner