The year is 1927. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) has Hollywood in the palm of his hand. A mega-successful movie star at the top of his game and beloved by his audience, he is seemingly invincible. However, despite his sunny disposition, he cannot ignore the fact that all is not well at home. His volatile marriage causes him to be more than a little enamored when he literally bumps into aspiring dancer Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a chance encounter that gives Peppy the courage to try out for a bit part in George’s latest film. Sparks continue to fly, and George encourages her star potential.
Sure enough, his advice takes her all the way to the top: when talking pictures are introduced, Peppy emerges as their darling. George, however, refuses to make the transition and laughs at the “talkies”, exclaiming, “I’m not a puppet, I’m an artist!”
And so begins his descent into obscurity and depression. George’s stubborn refusal to adapt destroys his career, his lifestyle and, ultimately, breaks his spirit. His pride keeps him from accepting Peppy’s help. While George idealises the past, Peppy has genuine hope for his future.
Directed and written by Michael Hazanavicius, The Artist is a silent, black and white film. But that is no reason to dismiss it; in fact, it is pure movie magic, drawing favourable comparisons with the joyful classic Singin’ in the Rain (1952). ”Like any branch of film there are some very boring films alongside the masterpieces,” says Hazanavicius of silent cinema. “It was important not to think of [‘The Artist’] as an ‘old movie’. It’s now, it’s new. But you have the benefit of this neglected format which gives you some exciting options as a storyteller.”
Dujardin’s performance drives The Artist. His smile is infectious and charisma appears to ooze out of his every pore. The perfect leading man, he is utterly convincing as both the joyful, successful star and the washed-up, lonely, heartbroken failure.
Berenice Bejo’s lovely Peppy is filled with youthful radiance and a fighting spirit. The rest of the cast includes John Goodman as a shrewd film executive who embraces the changing times, Missi Pyle as George’s easily irritated diva co-star and George’s movie sidekick and faithful companion, a Jack Russell terrier who never abandons his master, even coming to his rescue during the lowest point of his life.
For a charming, entertaining, and visually beautiful experience, you need look no further than The Artist.