“The Artist” is a testament to the power of cinema. It is proof that a film does not need splashy digital effects, color, or even audible dialogue to tap into wellsprings of emotion and completely capture the hearts of the audience.
The film is blessed with an absolutely superb cast. Every role from the leading man and lady (Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo) to the supporting cast (John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle) is executed perfectly. Every actor seems to understand the stipulations of a soundless performance: everything must flow from the gestures, the expressions. The actors blend subtlety and openness exceptionally well. Their lack of voice requires them to wear their emotions on their sleeves, and yet their performances never veer into melodramatic territory.
The stand-out performance of the film is Jean Dujardin’s turn as the once-great silent film star George Valentin. Though George is incredibly narcissistic and vain, it is impossible to dislike him. His charms are irresistible: with a flash of his disarming, debonair smile, his self-centered behavior is instantly forgiven. However, while George’s reveling in his stardom is genuinely enjoyable, the real meat of Dujardin’s performance comes from his character’s crisis of self, prompted by break-out star Peppy Miller’s (Bérénice Bejo) rise to fame. Seeing George attempt to find a place and a purpose in a world that has moved on without him is incredibly compelling, especially considering that Dujardin conveys all this and more with body language and facial cues alone.
The film thoughtfully toys with the idea of sound and speaking in subtle, sophisticated ways. For example, in one of his many movies, George plays a spy being interrogated by some insidious Russians. Despite being tortured with electrodes, George’s character declares “I’ll never speak!” And later, outside the film set and within George’s troubled domestic life, his frustrated wife demands to know why he never talks to her. Little cues like these sprinkled throughout the film make for an interesting commentary on speech and silence, making “The Artist” cleverly self-aware.
I should mention that “The Artist” is not entirely silent. Sound is employed in a limited fashion on two occasions in the film, and to great effect. In one scene, the inclusion of sound creates an unsettling, almost surrealist feel. In the other instance in which sound (actual dialogue this time) is used, it is truly artful, delicate, and breathtaking.
“The Artist” is completely charming and endlessly enthralling. I laughed, I cried, and I wanted to watch it again as soon as the credits rolled. I cannot remember the last time I’ve written such a positive review, which is only fitting, as I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen a film as perfect as “The Artist.” It is far and away the best film of the year, and a reminder how beautiful and uplifting movies can be.