The Artist – A movie review

by chaotarroo

I love Paul Thomas Anderson, I read the bible of Tarantinoism thrice a week and Woody Allen is easily the most adorable man on earth. What do these prolific directors have in common? Not for their adeptness in the heavy use of CGI or their steady hands in dragging a craned camera over Wall Street but their mastery in crafting witty and engaging dialogues.

Before the cinematography of a film catches my affection, intuitive dialogues are what that strikes me hardest and I am sure the same applies for many generations of film critics. Annie Hall was hardly fresh in it’s plot and yet it’s success is indisputable 30 years ago. Pulp fiction was neither cinematically pleasing nor conventionally directed but those trivialities can hardly deter a film from robbing several academy awards in the presence of 120pages worth of engrossing dialogues. And who can predict a bowling alley and a glass of milkshake to be the symbolic features(last scene of There Will Be Blood) of what the Oscar panel refer to as “Magnificent!”. Dialogues, I can’t deny them as the soul of all movies … well, that’s just an ill informed fantasy of mine before The Artist.

Prior to watching The Artist, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights was my only experience with a full length BW silent movie. Although remarkable given the era it’s made in and enjoyable watching it today, it was nothing imperative towards my appreciation of films. Given my uninspiring experience with this retired genre of films, I couldn’t imagine how different can The Artist be despite the accolades that critics had harried upon it and I am glad to leave the cinema being proved otherwise.

The Artist revolves around a simple plot line that swims against the direction of many quality benchmarks. It doesn’t try to impress it’s audience through a perplexing story or does it tries to rivet them with an epic tale, the charm is all in it’s sincerity, saying what it wants to say at the best time it can be said with no pretense.

While telling a story that tackles it’s audience viscerally, The Artist stresses itself on the fundamentals of film making not breaking a single of it’s commandments. No ambitious tracking shots were used in the entire movie, every scene was first entered with a master shot to capture the ambience, then a close up for the actors to mug at the screen with their convincing and delicate expression and once the message is delivered, the scenes cuts off fluently. Being turning points of the movie, only two scenes were cinematically outstanding with their relevant use of reflection, first was through a mirror in the dressing room and second was a reflection of the windows of a posh boutique. Not a single minute of screen time is wasted, no forced moments just to humor the audience and thank God that it’s devoid of silly cultural references(eg. I am a pigeon and i am tweeting because twitter is so cool!).

Knowing how technical the craft of writing appealing characters are, I silently regarded Toy Story 3 my best movie of 2010(or even the decade) mainly for it’s colorful and dynamically crafted characters and in comparing that aspect, The Artist doesn’t fall far from behind(if it’s not for the large cast in Toy Story 3 which makes it even more so impressive, The Artist may actually surpass TS3 here). Although some may receive more screen time then the rest, it doesn’t prevent the audience from having some inclination towards all of them. The characters are perfectly imperfect, erring with best intentions at some point of the movie all the more making them endearing. As sudden fame overwhelms Peppy Miller, despite being a bubbly and earnest lady, during an impromptu interview, slips her tongue to offend George Valentin causing spark between the two lovers. George Valentin despite being a devoted artist that respects acting as a form of art, allows his ego to poison the better of him by dismissing help from anybody. Al Zimmer, the movie tycoon, despite his frank advice to George in adapting with market demands is treated with disrespect and is shone in the light of a despicable mercenary. And last by not least, Uggy the Jack Russell, despite his good relationship with George Valentin, carelessly insinuates his suicide attempt before reconciling the lovers moments after.

Even in classic BW silent movies, the use of dialogues were inevitable. For those that are unfamiliar with it, terse dialogues were flashed across the screen occasionally either to inject a nuance to it or to explain a consequential idea too elaborated to be said through facial expression. Michel Hazanavicius was especially thoughtful in the use of these subtle expressions, every word flashed was pivotal as it is intriguing. Despite having written less than thirty lines of transcript for the entire movie, the impact that these stingy words pack is probably enough to surmount every word that Megan Fox once said in her career. To further exemplify his attention to detail and seriousness towards film making, despite being “mere” scores of a film, it’s thoughtfulness will make any classical composer be willing to claim as a work of his. Being a BW silent movie, the music isn’t “just” another element to the film, but is essential in invoking every emotion out of the audience how the director fully intends.

Although the colour is monochrome and the sound is silent it doesn’t stop the experience being an immeasurable delight. The Artist is a gentle yet important reminder of how movies should be and represents what cinematic excellence is. It’s a aesthetically hand written letter that mocks at the multi-million budgeted films that Hollywood churns out in increasing numbers year after year and rewrites everything we once thought we knew about movie. Michel Hazanavicius is the new role model for any serious film maker.