"The Artist": Silent Film Joyfully Resurrects Hollywood's Past

An undeniably charming homage to Hollywood in the late 1920s, The Artist might also be the first silent film many of its viewers have ever seen. French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius eases neophytes' discomfort by creating the cinematic equivalent of an amuse-bouche. Although many of the technical aspects of the silent period are expertly re-created — shooting at 22 frames per second, the boxy 1:33 aspect ratio — The Artist's blithe presentation of the transition from sound to talkies is even less complex than the one found in Singin' in the Rain. The film opens in 1927, when preening matinee idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is still the top draw at Kinograph Studios. George acts as a mentor to Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a chorine with big ambitions. Borrowing heavily from A Star Is Born, The Artist tracks both Peppy's ascent (through amusing montage) and George's decline as he refuses to acknowledge synchronized-sound as more than a passing fad. By 1932, Peppy's attracting lines around the block for her latest, while George spends his afternoons passed out on a barroom floor, his Jack Russell terrier his sole remaining fan. Or so he thinks: Peppy has never forgotten him, and the film's concluding act restores The Artist's buoyancy. The movie pivots on the spry connection between the mute (save for one scene) Dujardin and Bejo, both nimble performers and elegantly turned out in period finery and pomade. The Artist is movie love at its most anodyne, as Hazanavicius sweetly asks that we not be afraid of the past.

 
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