Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Artist - A splendid ode to a bygone era

For all of you who are reading this and  have not yet seen the modern classic yet, please do.

Calling it an experiment , like a lot many people did, would be a great disservice to the makers of this splendid movie. 'The Artist' is sure to go down in history as a must-watch. For those who want to study films, for those who pursue cinema relentlessly, and also for those who just watch movies because they just like to. If you're wondering why a silent film, the movie not only answers it, but makes you fall in love with the medium. it's clearly a product of a thinking director, where everything in the scene has a story to tell.
To be fair there is little of substance happening in 'The Artist'. It tells a fairly conventional and frankly kind of cliché story about rags to riches to rags. 'The Artist' isn't really about anything other than pure emotion. It's a sentimental film designed to really invoke a response in it's audience and it does it beautifully.

The film tells the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film actor megastar who withers away into obscurity when the introduction of "talkies" meets monumental popularity. Movie extra Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is a star on the rise who's admiration for George's work runs much deeper than the film's they share.

Jean Dujardin, largely unknown to the world, looks like a cross between Clarke Gable, Rock Hudson and Cary Grant.  Armed with a very charming smile and towering presence, he nails it as a megastar of the bygone era. He does such a splendid job, that it is almost impossible to think of this movie without him.   He is superbly supported by Bérénice Bejo, who plays a sprightly extra who goes on to become a Hollywood pin-up girl.
Both of them bring wonderful works, reaching that exact point of theatrical exaggeration and intimate detail the best actors from that period possessed. We tend to watch old films almost like involuntary comedies, full of apparatus expressions and excessive melodrama, but the actors were testing the limits of the new medium, and their best exponents (such as Buster Keaton, Lillian Gish and Lon Chaney) discovered the balance which was perfectly captured by Dujardin and Bejo.
Then, there is Uggie, who is Jean’s dog. If only the Academy had an award for an animal, he would have been the first choice.

Director and screenwriter Michel Hazanavicius made a brilliant work at capturing the atmosphere, rhythm and texture of mute cinema. He deserves more than a pat on his back for crafting a movie which is deeply reverential of the world of movie making, in addition to stimulating the sense of joy in all of us, making it irresistibly charming and appealing to the modern audience.  In this era of slam bang actioners, cacophonous explosions, VFX laden spectacles, remakes and sequels and of course the ubiquitous 3D, it takes extreme gumption to make a silent film that celebrates the old magic of movies.

Three aspects (amongst many others) that stand-out are:

Music score - The movie may not have dialogues, but it has a rousing soundtrack. After Jean, the music lends itself as the most important character in the movie. Every scene, each emotion is amplified beautifully by Ludovic Bource’s Oscar worthy score.

Cinematography - Hitchcock used to say that the silent movies were the most perfect state of the cinematographic art. The cinematography is gorgeous. Guillaume Schiffman makes love to the beautiful production design through his camera. The movie was shot in the 1.33:1 "Academy ratio," just as in silent-film days, since director-writer Michel Hazanavicius considered it 'perfect for actors' because it gives them 'a presence, a power, a strength. They occupy all the space of the screen.' 

Subtle placements / plot-points  - The titles shown on posters and outside cinemas often mirror the plot - for example, "The Thief of His Heart" is visible as Peppy tries on George's coat, "The Lonely Star" when George sadly crosses a street and "Guardian Angel" is the Peppy Miller film visible just after the auction. The 3 wise monkeys George's desk are a constant reminder of his aversion for all things sound. The staircase scene symbolizing George’s downfall and Peppy’s raise is worth it’s weight in gold.

This movies sets a precedent and creates a strong example for aspiring film-makers. This amazingly detailed, nuanced, visually brilliant film was shot is 35 days flat!!!

Some very interesting trivia about the movie. (Those who are yet to experience it, please skip this as it may contain spoilers)

# The movie was originally shot in color, then converted to black and white.

# There is not a single “Zoom shot” in the entire movie because zoom technology did not exist in the movie’s time period.

# The first spoken word of the film is 'cut', while the last spoken word is 'action'.

# All the dance sequences were performed by the actors themselves through heavy rehearsals.

# Peppy Miller does not have a single audible spoken line - despite being a talking superstar.

# The role of Jack the dog was actually played by three matching Jack Russell Terriers: Uggie, Dash and Dude.

 Go ahead, treat yourself to this classic. It is highly recommended.

Was it worthy enough to win the Best picture oscar? YES

Is it worth watching? YES. TWICE :)

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