When I first saw the above image at the recently concluded MAMI film festival in Mumbai, I actually believed it to be from a black and white film which was being shown as a part of a French film retrospective.
Only later on I came to know that the film in question was The Artist, a 2011 film which is a tribute to the bygone era of silent films. However if one watches the film, it would be hard to believe that it is a recent film if one is not informative.
The Artist set in the year 1927 narrates the tribulations of a famed silent movie star (Jean Djuardin) who is reluctant to make the switch from silent films to talkie films and the relation he shares with an upcoming starlet (Berenice Bejo).
At a time when every other film is made with the latest technological advancements and when dialogues are an essential part of every film, a film like The Artist is a gutsy and risky venture.
The plot and story of The Artist is very simple in narration. Themes such as the fall of a famed actor, refusal of an artist to bow to commercial diktats, rise of an aspiring starlet have been dealt with in many movies before. The film could have been a tragic depiction of the darker side of showbiz a la Kagaz Ke Phool. However the execution in The Artist makes all the difference.
The film uses all the silent movie techniques such as the old style opening titles, dialogue cards and capital words in dialogue cards to convey anger along with the exaggerated physical acting to employ the effect of dialogue delivery and so on.
However rather than using it as a mere gimmick director Michael Hazanivicius employs these techniques with such love, dedication and precision that it imparts the film an old world charm. It makes for a pleasant movie going experience as it is also shot in a slightly slower frame rate to give a more genuine feel of a silent film.
The artwork in the film deserves to be appreciated as the era of 1927 is beautifully and painstakingly recreated. Right from the old styled cinema halls to vintage studios, print ads etc. the art work and detailing is also nothing less than a marvel. Of course, most of the English films get it right when it comes to recreating bygone era but it is especially difficult to recreate such an era which is almost a century old now. The black and white frames of the film lend to it a surreal beauty. In fact, the silent film era is so beautifully re-created in the film that you do not miss the absence of colours & sound. So many scenes despite the absence of dialogues and music leave a spellbinding impact on the viewer.
The genius touch of the director is visible in many scenes throughout such as when a glass clinks to the floor and suddenly with the movement of each & every object Djuardin realises the importance of sound. There is another similar scene in which Djuardin is walking down the street and when he sees people speaking and seeing their lips move makes him almost insane. Such scenes leave you in awe for brilliantly reflecting and underplaying the protagonist’s dilemma.
In a silent film, the background music plays a very important role as it has the task of delivering the required effect with only the help of music. In this film, the background score rightly conveys the various moods and emotions, the characters are portraying. It also beautifully enhances each and every scene in the film making it even more memorable.
In a film like The Artist, the acting is of utmost importance. It is no mean feat to act sans dialogues and restricted with only movements and gestures to deliver performances. The performances make the film an even more enjoyable experience.
With his neatly gelled hair and thin moustache, Jean Djuardin could easily give the late Clark Gable and other Hollywood stars of yesteryear a run for their money. Whether he is gaining audience applause, trying to please his angry wife or fighting against his bad circumstances, Djuardin creates a protagonist that is likeable, simple and for whom you want to root. His tap dancing skills is optimised fully and is no surprise that he won a Golden globe for his superb performance.
Berenice Bejo as the aspiring starlet has a confident and sparkling screen presence and gives a very good performance. Amongst the supporting cast James Cromwell as Djuardin’s chauffeur and John Goodman as a film producer leave quite an impact. Special mention must be made of Uggie the dog who plays a very important role as Djuardin’s faithful canine companion.
To enhance their performances, the actors have used exaggerated physical and facial movements to deliver the required effect which as a gimmick rightly helps in adding to the performances. But rather than hampering the film, it only adds to the overall charm of the film.
Overall, The Artist works because it recreates a bygone era with a charm and simplicity which is not much visible in the movies nowadays. It is hard to believe that the French (this is a French production, by the way) have paid a tribute to Hollywood and easily is way better than any Hollywood movie depicting the bygone era. Moreover it also makes for such a joyful movie going experience.
In recent times, there have been very few instances where I have left the cinema with a smile and a delightful feeling. The Artist is pleasing, warm and funny without being emotionally manipulative or having slapstick comedy. It symbolises everything we go to the movies for. Entertaining, Delightful and be ready to get transported to a different world where everything is make believe yet so enduring and hard to resist. Watching this movie will definitely leave you with a pleasant feeling which would linger for a long time.
Don’t let the fact that this is a silent film deter you from enjoying it as the beauty of this film lies in its silence and magnificent black and white frames. No surprises for guessing whom I will root for at the Academy Awards.Highly Recommended.