Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

The Artist

This has been a great year for nostalgia in the movies. On the one hand, we have had a film, "Hugo," by American filmmaker Martin Scorsese, eulogizing Melies, the early master of French cinema. In "The Artist," we have a film by a French filmmaker, Michel Hazanavicius, which is a homage to formative days of the American Hollywood movie industry--interesting parallels.

Hazanavicius' love letter to Hollywood is shot in black and white, and largely "silent", although it does have a music track and the occasional clever insertion of sounds. Beginning in 1927, the film covers the turbulent period of Hollywood's conversion to "talkies," the 1929 market crash, and the early Depression of the 1930's.

The film's leading man, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), has had a successful career as what we would now call an "action hero" with all the trappings of success, only marred by his loveless marriage. (His wife,Doris, played by Penelope Ann Miller, spends her idle days defacing his pictures in the movie magazines--.)When sound comes in, he scoffs at it as a gimmick, maintaining that true artistry is in the silent cinema.

When his studio converts to all-talking pictures his contract is dropped. George invests his own money in making a jungle epic, which tanks in competition with the sound movies. As it turns out, George can ill-afford the loss, since the crash of '29 wipes out his other holdings. Life is pretty much a downward spiral for George as career, fortune, home, and wife all leave him in short order.

On the upward spiral is "Peppy" Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a vivacious and ambitious (but,as we see,kind-hearted)young actress who gets a break when George insists she be retained as an extra in one of his spy-thriller adventure films. During a flirtatious post-filming meeting which reveals her crush on him, George advises Peppy that she needs something "different" to stand out in the movies, and uses a make-up pencil to give her a "beauty spot" that becomes her trademark. Indeed, her first starring vehicle, which blows away George's self-made film at the box office, is titled "The Beauty Spot." Peppy takes to sound cinema like a natural and soon has (sometimes literally) most of the things that George once enjoyed.

How their two lives remain intertwined and this works out is the remainder of the movie, in a sincerely told story that is at times funny, at times frightening, and frequently sad. In these cynical days, it's nice to see a movie that deals with sincere sentimentality.

The two leads are excellent. Dujardin plays Georges as stubborn, proud, quixotic, and decent. He is reduced to pawning his tail-coat, but has retained his Lincoln limousine because he can't bear to part with his chauffeur and friend, Clifton (James Cromwell) and eventually gives Clifton the car as severance in lieu of back wages. Bejo's Peppy is a level-headed and sensible but joyous professional whose longings for George can't penetrate his fortress of wounded pride and disappointment. They are supported by an excellent cast of Hollywood veterans, including Cromwell as the loyal Clifton, and John Goodman as the studio head.

Oh, and the dog? Yeah, "Uggie" is cute enough, but didn't do anything I haven't seen a hundred cinema dogs do as well, I don't see see what the fuss is about.

Highly recommended for those who like movies about movies.

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Tags: movies
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