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Silence Is Golden

MOVIE REVIEW
The Artist (2011)

The-artist-jean-dujardin
The Weinstein Company

“The Artist” is a movie made out of love. There is no other way to describe it. It is a love letter to cinema, to style and to the art of making movies; and anyone who loves movies needs to see it — now.

It is about the relationship between George Valentin (Jean Dujardin of the “OSS 117” movies) and young Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, who was the maid in “A Knight’s Tale”). George is the biggest movie star in 1927 Hollywood; and he meets Peppy when she accidentally drops her handbag at a red-carpet event. Photographs of them together make the front page, to the annoyance of studio head Zimmer (John Goodman, who you can tell enjoyed himself). But the fuss gets Peppy — and her legs — work as an extra; and her career takes off from there. But as sound comes into movies, George doesn’t realize his star status might change along with the movies.

What makes this even more wonderful is that the movie is dialogue-free. Don’t even think it’s silent, as there is a classical soundtrack by Ludovic Bource — and one astounding scene where the real-life sound kicks in for poor old George. There’s a funny little dog whose barks are almost visible on-screen. Otherwise, dialogue is put up on title cards or mouthed by the characters. Smaller parts were cast for their faces: James Cromwell as George’s devoted chauffeur, Penelope Ann Miller as George’s wife, Malcolm McDowell and Beth Grant in cameos and the hilarious Missi Pyle playing the Jean Hagen part from “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman shot with unusual attention to light and shadow. It’s an homage to the style and the methods of the old films, but it doesn’t feel dated — It feels like now. Mr. Dujardin and Ms. Bejo are so good that you don’t really notice the lack of sound – you understand exactly what they are thinking and what’s going on at all times. It’s so charming and smart that you don’t really mind the pace slips after the first act — slightly tighter editing would have made this an almost perfect movie. As it is, it is one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences that someone who loves movies can imagine.

Harvey Weinstein bought the American rights and spoke at the BFI London Film Festival about the business case he had to make for the film and how his board’s nervousness about the project disappeared immediately upon seeing the film. Take his advice; and you will also fall in love.

THE ARTIST

Opens on Nov. 25 in Manhattan and on Dec. 30 in the United Kingdom.

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius; director of photography, Guillaume Schiffman; edited by Mr. Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion; music by Ludovic Bource; production design by Laurence Bennett; costumes by Mark Bridges; produced by Thomas Langmann; released by the Weinstein Company (United States) and Entertainment Film Distributors (United Kingdom). Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and PG by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Jean Dujardin (George Valentin), Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller), James Cromwell (Clifton), Penelope Ann Miller (Doris), Malcolm McDowell (the Butler), Missi Pyle (Constance), Beth Grant (Peppy’s Maid), Ed Lauter (Peppy’s Butler), Joel Murray (Policeman), Ken Davitan (Pawnbroker), Uggie (the Dog) and John Goodman (Al Zimmer).

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