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Flicks: The Artist

Marie: There are two ways that I can describe Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist (2012) right off the top of my head: 1) It is an endearing and affective love letter to the art and history of cinema, and 2) It is a novelty film, it being the first feature-length silent film since the 1920s. Starring French actor Jean Dujardin in the title role and Berenice Bejo as his charming protégé, The Artist tells the story of George Valentin, a veteran silent film actor struggling with Hollywood’s transition from silent movies to talkies, or films with sound and dialogue. To merely describe the sheer flawlessness of this film in words will not do it justice.

Zoe: Yeah, I loved the revival of silence. Too many films rely on dialogue to tell a story. Sometimes I just want everyone to shut up and let me watch the damn movie. The Artist plays on the visual nature of the medium. It also allows us to imagine how awesome life would be if it was a really long game of charades and everyone had sick miming skills.

M: What impressed me in particular is the fact that the film is so well put together. Lately I’ve been finding myself praising a film solely for its story, or only for its special effects (the Transformers films, anyone?), but in The Artist the technical aspects of filmmaking and the storyline worked perfectly together . The film is crafted in such a way that I couldn’t help but appreciate everything all at once: the music, the acting, the story and the special effects.

Z: You can tell that this movie was made by people who really love and respect film; every single frame and scene is precisely calculated. The filmmakers have such joy and gusto playing with the tools they know so well. I loved references to the tight, sly filmmaking of a period which was all about visual storytelling. Send-ups to silent classics, early melodramas, Citizen Kane and my man, Alfred Hitchcock, crop up throughout. The use of framing and images to represent psychological states is engrossing, especially the tricky games played with mirrors.

M: Hazanavicius’ use of mirrors and reflections was utterly brilliant.  Several key scenes, such as moments of self-reflection, take place in front of mirrors or reflective surfaces, while scenes from George’s own films also underscore his changing of fortunes and psychological development. In this film, mirrors do not merely reflect George’s outward appearance, but ultimately expose his flaws, fears and insecurities.

The film itself is also a reflection: Peppy Miller’s dedication to preserve George Valentin’s accomplishments and to revive his career reflects Hazanavicius’ own attempt to preserve this particular period in history, while simultaneously reminding us that art thrives on progress and innovation.

Z: The Artist will inspire progress in another way,too. We need a new Oscar category for best performance by an animal. Uggie, a sweet Jack Russell who is George’s constant companion, bounds around like a little spring, totally tense and wound up and so cute that he turns your cerebral cortex to mush.

M: I myself have fallen in love with Jean Dujardin. As George, Dujardin has to emote solely through his facial expressions and body language in a film devoid of dialogue. Dujardin is brilliant in this breakout role, but I’m not going to say why he deserves his Oscar nomination. You’ll have to see it for yourself!

Z: Our recession-embittered world is itching for an optimistic movie like The Artist. It is Hollywood, but Hollywood at its finest, a dream dancing with reality for a few hours, leaving us covered in glitter and ready to carry on. The only way you couldn’t like The Artist is if you are dead inside and have no heart.

M: I’ll volunteer to be a little heartless for a moment. My only nitpick about this movie was that its plot doesn’t go out of its way to try to subvert your expectations. You know right from the start that this film is going to have a happy ending. That being said, however, whenever I get really nitpicky about a film, it only means that I can’t legitimately find anything flawed about it, and The Artist is nearly as flawless as they come.


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