I love silent movies. I love the physical comedy of Buster Keaton, the pathos and social commentary of Charlie Chaplin, and the haunting atmosfears of films like Metropolis and Battleship Potemkin. So, when I geared myself up to watch Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist, I hoped for the best but prepared for much less. With any obvious public homage to anything I love, I turn into a jealous, scornful child. I feared The Artist was going to perpetuate the stereotypes that modern audiences held: that silent films were boring, cheesy, corny, marshmallowy, and any other offending food adjective. Frankly, I felt like the movie was going to do the world of silent film any justice.
Now here’s the part where I say, ‘But I was so wrong.’ You saw that coming, didn’t you? It’s an often used rhetorical device (a honeyed pig, I believe it’s called) that never seems to get old because it always seems to work and nobody seems to mind it. Funnily enough, similar things can be said to describe The Artist.
But let me get the whole summing-up portion of this review out of the way just now so that I don’t have to do it at the end. The Artist is a fantastic film. It’s gorgeously shot, meticulously faithful to the idiosyncrasies of the art form it homages, and the acting is phenomenal. Both lead actors, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, have wonderfully expressive faces that suit the film perfectly. Dujardin displays, both seriously and comically, the entire gamut of human emotion. Bejo nails her character down flawlessly—it takes a talented actress to successfully convey a chatterbox in a silent film.
Now back to what I mentioned earlier.
The Artist, through its traditional 1.37 : 1 full-screen aspect ratio, lets you into a world of the past and traps you there for roughly 100 minutes. It employs all the traits of the silent film as well as the beats of old Hollywood films in general—plot points that have been used over and over again throughout the decades. In one sense, there is nothing original in The Artist. So why did I love it? To put it one way, it’s completely true to form. It haves the way an homage is supposed to behave but rarely pulls off. Mimics without the gimmicks, if you will. The reason I not only accepted but enjoyed The Artist‘s use of caricature and formula is because it brings to light the period of time when those caricatures were characters, those formulas were inventions, and those characters and inventions worked, which of course is why they’ve been used over and over again and thus losing all their lustre.
The Artist meets that ever-difficult challenge of employing outdated and overused techniques to create something special. In its case: a time capsule that reinvigorated my love for a good movie.
And so, after an hour and a half of being enraptured by a black-and-white silent film, I came out of the theatre and walked down the street. The traffic lights were impossibly vivid, the sounds of engines and voices overwhelmed my ears, and I walked home in a most inspired mood.