The Man Who Couldn’t Speak

The incredible buzz and positive press behind The Artist had me questioning the film before even watching it.

I wondered that if the same silent film were made in the actual silent film era if it would be the same critically acclaimed piece of work. I wondered if people only praised it because it was something “different” (yet not so different) in a modern generation.

I haven’t seen that many silent films. I’ve seen some masterpieces thought. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler are some of the best films, silent or not, ever made. Battleship Potemkin influenced numerous films across many genres and Nosferatu certainly did its part to impact the horror genre. I wondered if The Artist was worth its praise.

Truth be told, I still wasn’t convinced by Michel Hazanavicius somewhat experimental attempt at recreating the silent film era even halfway through it all. Sure, it was charming and clever and the lead performances by Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo were crowd-pleasing (even if the crowd was just myself). No, I was still trying to figure it all out. Once I decided to throw out any kind of comparison to the actual silent film era I began to feel a lot better about Hazanavicius’ film. It didn’t matter if it belonged in the same class as Lang’s masterpieces or not.

What The Artist does so well is make you love film. Whether you’ve seen a silent film or not before, Hazanavicius’ work will have you respecting the movie magic that long preceded what we consider to be the norm. Even more important, The Artist feels like it could have actually come out of the 1920’s. It feels like it belongs to a decade that’s long gone and that nearly perfect imitation is its appeal. Hazanavicius’ picture looks, feels and plays out like it wasn’t released in 2011, probably the biggest compliment this kind of experiment could really receive.

At the heart of The Artist is its charm. Dujardin and Bejo both warm their way into your hearts without saying a word – a talent once reserved for past screen legends that the two impeccably revived. Hazanavicius tells the story of George Valentin, a famous silent film star, who has trouble adapting to the changing world of cinema. Bejo plays Peppy Miller, the gorgeous and ideal young face to champion the talking picture. This is the story of their love, heartbreak and the challenges between. It ended up being way more dark than I actually thought it could ever be, and the rather genuine Hollywoodland tale is told with a rather keen approach towards emotion. It’s a winning love story.

Even though I found myself telling Hazanavicius how clever he was periodically throughout The Artist, I still am not sold on it being the best film of the year. I get the critical acclaim, I get why Bejo and Dujardin are both rightfully nominated for their acting. I get it all. I really loved and enjoyed watching this one unfold. I just wasn’t blown away.

But even so, there’s so much love for the craft of filmmaking and the industry in general, so it’s easy to see why this has flown by most critical eyes with flying colors. It’s easy to love, easy to watch and easy to appreciate. Hazanavicius, Bejo and Dujardin all absolutely nail their roles in the film’s production. I do think the film’s quirkiness will grow on me over multiple viewings. There’s a lot to love in The Artist, I’m just not sure if it’s the best film of the year.

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