Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Artist

This film by French director Michel Hazanavicius starring French actors Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo is up for Best Picture as well as nine other Academy Awards. It's a black and white silent movie about a silent movie idol.

Talk about meta.

Those who have fallen under the spell of the recreation of this long past era are effusive in praising the film (see TEN Academy Award nominations). And then there are those who aren't impressed--like film critic Jeffrey Wells who said of the movie:

"The Artist is all about re-creation, backward visitation and reflective surfaces. It possesses and radiates nothing that is truly its own, except for a desire to give entertainment-seekers a nice pleasant time."

I wouldn't be quite as dismissive of The Artist's charms as Mr. Wells--but he certainly has a good point. There's nothing new in the film: its plot borrows heavily from the far superior and more charming depiction of the advent of talkies, Singing in the Rain as well as the already multiply-remade A Star is Born. Indeed, one of the minor characters in The Artist is a definite Lina Lamont ripoff.

As baffled as I am about all the buzz surrounding this "re-creation" (Gus Van Sant did a shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho some years back which definitely did NOT receive the adulation afforded The Artist...), I'm more puzzled by the why of it all.

Why would protagonist George Valentin jeopardize his thriving career by refusing to do talkies? Did he think his French accent would put off the audience ('cuz we all know that American women are completely immune to sexy accents...)?

What was the point of having a stellar supporting cast including John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell and James Cromwell whose combined screen time was less than Uggie the dog?

Why the need to tell this story--to recreate a bygone film genre--at all? Mel Brooks did it over 30 years ago--and far more successfully and charmingly than this venture.

The movie felt long and at 100 minutes it's certainly no Lord of the Rings endurance test, but it's a good fifteen minutes longer than the films it's trying to emulate. And while the acting in silent films focuses on emotive facial expressions, Bérénice Bejo crosses the line into the realm of "mugging" for the camera. As the plucky heroine, she's perky and spunky and completely lives up to her aptly annoying name, Peppy Miller. She reminds me of the forced exuberance of Shelly Hack in Charlie perfume commercials.

Bejo did have a nice moment in the film when she crashed Valentin's dressing room and pantomimed caressing herself via his jacket. But overall she gave off a smug vibe and I wanted to smack her. I thought it would have been more entertaining if the beauty mark Valentin gave her to make her stand out among the competition moved around her face--maybe jumping from the right side to the left or something.

Like Hugo, The Artist is a love letter to the film industry. But while it's a lovely little film, it falls in the "Good, not great" category for me.

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