Why “The Artist” Will Sweep the Golden Globes and Oscars

Elizabeth Pyjov


“The Artist” is funny, warm, intelligent, uplifting, and original all at the same time. Usually a film with one of these qualities executed well is worth watching. The combination of all five makes for a film that is a masterpiece. During a year in which so many sequels came out – among the highest-grossing films of the year were “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Cars 2” – this film is a breath of fresh air in its originality.


Michel Hazanavicius wrote and directed “The Artist.” He had been planning to make this film for more than 10 years, and producers refused to work with him because  Hazanavicius had his heart set on filming a silent, black-and-white movie. The idea sounded anachronistic and bizarre. Finally, Thomas Langmann took a risk and agreed to invest in the film, becoming its producer. To the fortune of audiences worldwide, “The Artist” was finally  released in late 2011. It is a project Hazanavicius loved and stayed devoted to for more than a decade, and in the end he created a work of exceptional beauty.


Although “The Artist” is a French film, it is set in Los Angeles in the late 1920s and early 1930s during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It captures a turning point in cinema when talking films began replacing silent ones. Hazanavicius tells the story by presenting the contrast (and attraction) between George Valentin, a widely adored star of the silent era, and Peppy Miller, a rising star of talking film. The two meet by accident when George Valentin is at the peak of his career and Peppy Miller is just a girl in the crowd, enamored by a handsome celebrity. Soon after, talkies begin to dominate the film industry. George's and Peppy's lives and careers develop in separate directions and yet continue to cross. The two actors, played by Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin, are a joy to watch as they bring a delightful charm to their roles. Because of its mostly silent format, the actors engage in great physical comedy and pantomime.


The film itself is inspiring,  as is the success story behind it. The movie that for years no one wanted to fund or produce has been nominated for some of the highest accolades in cinema, and has already won many notable honors. “The Artist” was added to the Cannes film festival at the last minute, and it was nominated for the Palme d’Or, as well as best male lead. When the film premiered at Cannes, it was enthusiastically applauded for 12 minutes. Dujardin won the award for best actor, and the terrier named Uggy who accompanies him throughout the film won the Palm Dog award for best canine performance.


Most recently, on December 15, “The Artist” received more Golden Globe nominations than any other film of 2011, leading with six nominations, among them best comedy or musical, best director, best screenplay, best score and acting nominations for Dujardin and Bejo. If later this month “The Artist” is nominated for an Oscar for best picture, it will be the first silent film to be nominated in eight decades. And if it wins, it will be the first French film and the first silent film to receive this honor.


Although “The Artist” is a black-and-white film about the past made mostly without the use of sound, Hazanavicius shows the old in a way that is refreshing and new. In a period when directors attempt to attract attention with 3D films and expensive special effects, “The Artist” has a welcome simplicity. At this point the old-fashioned, romantic naïveté of “The Artist” feels almost revolutionary. Far from being limited by its black-and-white silent medium, the film benefits from it, and retains an exciting and electrifying energy throughout. Hazanavicius not only incorporates the transition from silent film to sound film as part of the plot, but his stylistic choices skillfully put viewers into the mindset of the time. The few moments when there is sound in the film, Hazanavicius gives the audience a sense of how uncanny and jarring sound in film must have felt to those experiencing it for the first time. Sound is represented in a way that modern audiences have probably never heard it before – as a kind of clutter. Still, the film is predominantly silent, meaning there is no linguistic barrier, much like in a painting or instrumental music. The lack of spoken words allows French and Americans actors to play side by side with wonderful ease. More importantly, it brings a kind of universality to the “The Artist,” which is perhaps even more valuable now than it was  80 years ago.


“The Artist” is a love story on multiple levels. First, Hazanavicius sets up a romance between the two main characters. He shows two people who like each other and also help and support each other through challenges. Hazanavicius also shows the actors’ love of their craft, and the audiences’ passion about the movies they see. Simultaneously, the film emanates a love of cinema, old and new. Throughout the film, Hazanavicius makes an excellent homage to silent film, especially the work of Charlie Chaplin. He also often references his favorite American classic films such as “Citizen Kane,”A Star Is Born,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “Singin' in the Rain.” These citations enrich the film, yet they never take over. “The Artist” retains an identity that is entirely its own with characters that are memorable and loveable completely in their own right.


In a year when a  number of good movies were produced, “The Artist” stands out as a gem. It is well-made, well-acted, and widely entertaining. Hazanavicius has made an extraordinary film that will leave audiences with the desire to watch it again and again.

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Pyjov is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


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