It came as no surprise to me whatsoever that I adored the new French film that has been sweeping up every award, The Artist. Unlike the filmgoers in England, who recently demanded their money back after finding out that this is a silent film, I relished the opportunity to go back in time to an era that is responsible for the birth of the motion picture industry. Who hasn’t thought about what happened to some of the legendary actors who so skillfully played non-speaking characters in motion pictures when talking pictures were introduced? Just a few weeks ago, I read with interest about the death of Silent Film screen writer Frederica Sagor Maas who had a tough time transitioning to the change. Her obituary added to my curiosity about this period.
The beauty of this film is how obedient and faithful it is to this time period. From the black and white film, to the bold, classical score, to the cinematography, to the costumes, to the lighting, it is completely reminiscent to films starring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Yet it has a tone of modernity and sophistication that the filmmakers bring in so expertly. As the characters start to recognize sound, we start to hear sound, but it is subtle and the film stays true to the end in its promise of a silent film. Even when talking films are taking over and film executives decide to move on and fire the silent crew, the film’s sound stays silent, never losing its course. It is a silent film to the end, when we hear just a few words.
While most of the cast and crew are French, several of the stars are American including John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Anne Miller. Writer-Director Michael Hazanavicius chose Jean Dujardin to play George and Berenice Bejo to play Peppy, and they could not have been more perfectly cast. Their expressions are subtle yet fill the screen with emotion and all the words their characters need to say.
When the film starts out, George and Peppy meet on the set of his new movie, “A German Affair.” They nearly share a kiss in his dressing room, but he is married and they seem to have an understanding to move on. Not long after, the film studio decides to do away with silent pictures and they bring Peppy in as part of their repertoire to go out with the old, in with the new. And so starts George’s decline and Peppy’s rise.
“If that’s the future, you can have it!” George says at one point in the film. I can’t stop thinking about Chaplin, Keaton, Maas and all the others actors and writers who were impacted by the change in technology. In a way, it’s indicative of the film industry today and how it is dealing with all its own challenges, from technology to finance.
In “The Artist,” silence is truly golden, and you must see it to understand why.
Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post and all opinions expressed are my own.