PFF20 – Review – The Artist

The Artist, the nearly totally silent film shot in black-and-white, is pure stunning. If you decide to skip it based on either of those two unique characteristics, you’ll be doing yourself a major disservice.

Director Michel Hazanavicius has constructed no less than a sizzling masterwork celebrating not just the silent film but the film medium in general, both as a whole and as the sum of two very distinct halves separated by the breakthrough of sound. The Artist simultaneously amusingly and poignantly portrays the emotional turmoil suffered by a silent era star (Jean Dujardin) once Hollywood rather quickly transitioned to talkies in the late 1920s. Dujardin, winner of Best Actor at Cannes, plays George Valentin, a Rudolph Valentino-esque god of the silent film. Opposite him is the up-and-coming Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who Valentin “discovers” and gives a major push to her own eventual stardom Their trajectories are mirror opposites of each other, as Valentin refuses to embrace this revolutionary talking cinema while Peppy nearly overnight becomes a major starlet of the new art form. There’s a scene where Peppy walks by a marquee for a film called “Guardian Angel,” a fitting symbol for her persistent devotion to George (whose own marquee, “The Lonely Star,”sums up his fallen state compounded by his prideful resistance to Peppy’s devoted friendship).

John Goodman and James Cromwell deftly play a studio chief and Valentin’s chauffeur. The film’s hands-down Best Supporting Actor though is a delightful Jack Russell Terrier, who demolishes any preconceived notions you may have about film dogs. The Jack Russell in Beginners ought to take acting lesson from The Artist’s pup.

It may sound outlandish but this exquisitely entertaining film could make a serious run for the Academy Award as Best Film. Harvey Weinstein, no stranger to winning Oscar strategies, will distribute it in America. He will have his work cut out for him though. An additional taboo that could scare away jaded filmgoers is that the The Artist, adhering to the strict Hays Code of the 1930s, contains nothing more explicit than a hug (even kissing was off limits) and no violence either (other than a strategically placed “Bang”). Judging from the sparse crowd at The Prince Theater last night, the film’s awards fate could be limited to a more token “here’s-our-art-film”nomination similar to last year’s nomination for “Winter’s Bone.” That would be a shame. After experiencing this film unleash the realization of just how powerful an out-of-body experience the film medium can unleash, I’m a little worried the rest of the films in The Philadelphia Film Festival will feel downright mundane in comparison.

9.5 Bangs (Out of 10)

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