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The Arist - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Arist
Directing: A
Acting: A
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A
Editing: A
Music: A-

Never before have I paid so much attention to sound editing and design. With The Artist, an homage to silent film which is itself mostly a silent film, the very few times there is any sound besides the score, it has a massive impact: it's very deliberate. It gets your attention.

This whole movie is one big attention-getter. Whether the precise amount of attention it's getting is exactly deserved is perhaps up for debate. Would even I be paying this much attention if not for all the media coverage declaring it the current front-runner for this year's Best Picture? I really can't say. I can say that I'm glad I saw it, and that it is for the most part excellent.

There is so much attention to detail here, on every level, that The Artist is nothing less than an optimum specimen of technical achievement. It's ironic that this is a silent film and yet sound is arguably its most important element -- almost all of which is the perfectly suited score by Ludovic Bource. When the music plays, it's of a sort clearly designed for the image at hand -- but far from the same clichéd, emotionally manipulative crap you find in most Hollywood movies. When the music stops, it's for an equally good reason. When there is an actual sound effect, it is not just a sound, but an actual commentary on the nature of sound in the history of cinema.

But this detail goes far beyond just the soundtrack. The editing throughout is designed to make the film look just like a film from the silent era, right down to the way people walk just ever so slightly faster than is natural. The cinematography, by Guillaume Schiffman, is a clear and deliberate reminder of the immortal line spoken by Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard: "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!" Indeed, with this kind of deliberately precise placement of light and shadow on the silver screen, the faces are unforgettable in a way they never would be in color.

In a way, both The Arist and Hugo have a lot in common. Both of them heavily reference films from the silent era, and both find their own way to modernize the concept. The difference is that Hugo is a family film and The Artist is aimed squarely at adults. I can't say I felt like The Artist contained the same level of magic. Perhaps it's because The Artist, instead of living in the present and looking at the past, attempts a sort of time travel, to comment on the present as unraveled from the past. It's a little more discombobulating.

Granted, I have a tendency to get bored with silent films, with the possible exception of Metropolis, which is hard to beat. The constant music has an effect similar to attending a ballet or symphony: it lulls me to sleep. At least The Artist goes in a direction none of the early 20th-century silent films did, which is to set the story during the transition from silent films to "talkies," and illustrate its impact. From that perspective, The Artist is kind of the silent film version of Sunset Boulevard.

It certainly has its own character who becomes a has-been after refusing to star in talkies after silent film goes by the wayside: George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) lets pride get the best of him, and looks on jealously as a young woman named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), whom he ran into outside a theatre at the height of his fame, rises to stardom in talkies. They run into each other only occasionally during the rise of her career and the downward slide of his; he sees her success reflected in posters and marquees and movie credit placement. He loses his wife (Penelope Ann Miller). He loses his house. He has to fire his loyal driver (James Cromwell).

The Artist is a French film, by French director Michel Hazanavicius (OS 117), with many French actors mostly unfamiliar with American audiences. The exceptions are Cromwell, and John Goodman, looking unusually trim as studio executive Al Zimmer. When Valentin first gets a glimpse of a talkie, it's Zimmer who tells him, "Don't laugh, Valentin. That's the future!" It was so much of the future, in fact, that silent film itself feels like it's an ancient relic. What The Artst reminds us of is what got lost in that transition -- a level of artistry in both sight and sound unmatched in any modern cinema. Except now, one could argue, thanks to The Artist.

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo find their way to both each other and the audience in THE ARTIST.

Overall: A-
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