When walking out of the theater after seeing The Artist, you may experience an odd sensation. Talking, for a brief moment, seems odd. This is what certainly happened to me. Yet this is understandable, for The Artist is an almost completely silent film, a technique not used on the scale of a major motion picture since the 1920s.
Coincidently enough, The Artist takes place in the late 1920s, during the transition from silent films to the “talkies” of today. The story centers on an actor very reluctant to transition into the new age of filmmaking, and his rise and fall as a star.
The Artist is clearly an award show favorite – it just picked up five Academy Awards this past weekend, including Best Picture, Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius) and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin). This is the first silent film to win since 1929, the very first Oscar ceremony done. It was rather poetic, then, when The Artist won this weekend, as the entire ceremony focused on the magic of going to the movies and the legacy they give. The Artist is a fine testament to the roots of modern filmmaking.
That being said, what made The Artist worthy of winning so many awards? Personally, I thought the movie was charming and certainly a unique movie-going experience. It requires the audience to pay closer attention – to pick up on body movements and motions more for what the characters are thinking, as the dialogue is very limited. It was a beautiful homage to the silent film era and old Hollywood. Jean Dujardin was funny yet enthralling as the silent film actor struggling to adapt to the new Hollywood of the talkies. Bérénice Bejo was charming as a woman starting from nothing, making her way to becoming a star of the talkies while Dujardin’s character slowly saw his fame crumble away.
That being said, I had some difficulty empathizing with the main character. The film took place not only during the transition to talkies but also during the Depression. People were losing fortunes, homes, entire livelihoods, yet the film centered on an actor who simply refused to do talkies. And we were supposed to feel bad for him when he lost most of his fame and fortune? Why didn’t he just make a talky? To not spoil any of the plot line, I will stop there.
That one nitpick aside, I thought The Artist was the most subtly bold film I have seen in recent memory. In a world where films compete with each other to have the most explosions, car chases and action scenes, The Artist didn’t even have speech, yet it captivates. For that reason alone, I understand why this movie won so many awards. The supporting cast, including John Goodman, James Cromwell and one adorable dog named Uggie, also lends much to The Artist. They bring humor and emotion to their roles (especially Uggie – he has some awesome tricks). The music was also great (and it was given credit with the Oscar for Best Musical Score this past weekend), and of course since this is a silent film the music is pretty much all you’re listening to during the movie.
Beautifully shot in black-and-white, with full believability that this was made almost 100 years ago, this movie is timeless. So, head down to the movies, give your ears a break for a while and let The Artist send you back to a time when speech wasn’t even needed to make a truly great film.
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