Back to basics with ‘The Artist’

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By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer

If there is one tool that a filmmaker can use to get me hooked, it is nostalgia. “The Artist,” of course, plays right into that.

“The Artist” takes place between 1927 and 1932. It follows dashing and successful silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) as he struggles to find his footing in a world that is “talking now.” He meets and falls in love with a young ingénue Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), whose career is beginning to take off after the industry makes the change to talkies, while George’s career—and life—fall into disarray. Peppy tries desperately to save his life and bring him back from the edge, but George’s pride keeps getting in the way, leading to an emotional reunion.

The word masterpiece gets tossed around a lot — most of the time it’s a gross exaggeration — but French director Michel Hazanavicius has managed to make what could truly be described as a modern cinematic masterpiece. Unique and fearless, “The Artist” successfully modernizes a style of filmmaking that hasn’t been used for more than 80 years.

“The Artist” manages to escape what may have been impossible for other films attempting this genre. It never falls into a gimmick, allowing the characters and plot room to grow and developing into something that is simply dazzling.

Much of this triumph is due to its lead actors, Dujardin and Bejo, who share a beautiful chemistry. Dujardin, with his toothy grin and classic good looks, seems like he could have actually stepped out of a movie with Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino. Dujardin’s performance as the broken and proud Valentin is easily one of the best performances of the year and a true contender for Best Actor at the Oscars. Dujardin has already won the SAG and the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Bejo conveys so much through her wide-eyed and unabashed go-get-em attitude. You instantly like her and root for her to succeed in her mission to save Valentin.

There are so many exceptionally beautiful scenes that will remind audiences of older films, such as “Sunset Boulevard.” The early scene that shows Valentin and Peppy as they film their first scenes together and the shots as Valentin begins falling into his depression are stunning.

Hazanavicius has created an atmosphere for “The Artist” that shows how much he loves films, especially the silent ones. He’s also put together a cast that lends so much to a story that’s already wonderful. “The Artist” is like an incredibly intricate puzzle. When all the pieces fall into place, the film we are given is exceptional, crowd pleasing and extraordinarily beautiful. Much like those classic silent films, “The Artist” will live on for generations.

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