By APRIL DIODATO
OBSERVER Lifestyles Editor
Sometimes silence is more powerful than words.
Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo star in “The Artist,” nominated for nine Academy Awards this year.
When I went to see "The Artist," the most buzzed-about movie of the year, there was a moment just as the opening credits began to roll when I thought incredulously, "I just paid good money to see a brand-new silent film in 2012."
No stranger to silent films, I have trudged through them in my film studies classes and on the occasional lazy day spent taking in Turner Classic Movies. Some were engaging - like "Nosferatu" and a handful of others - but watching most felt like a chore.
Any misgivings I had swiftly dissipated as soon as the movie began. I realized that it was actually exciting to be watching a new silent film just as moviegoers did nearly a century ago. Quickly, we are swept up in a story about a silent film star nearing the end of his heyday. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and his remarkably clever Jack Russell terrier, Jack, are shown soaking up the applause following a screening of his newest silent picture. The duo hams it up onstage in front of a full house and exit the theater to an awaiting, admiring crowd, filled with fans and radio reporters. (A thought occurred to me: anyone could be a silent film star on the radio).
It is then that we are introduced to Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a young ingenue who co-starred with Valentin in the film. As she exits the theater, Valentin takes Miller from virtual nobody to overnight sensation simply by sharing the spotlight with her. They pose together as the cameras snap away - a favor to Miller that she would not soon forget. The shot of Miller giving the star a playful peck on the cheek is on the front page of every paper the next day, with headlines demanding, "Who's that girl?"
"The Artist" is a heartfelt and moving story. It's about rejection, redemption, hope and despair, success and failure. It's about friendship and betrayal. The fact that it is silent is not a detriment to the film. In fact, it's a reminder that sometimes silence says more than words are capable of.
Unlike many fads of days gone by, this movie will stand the test of time. There comes a time at least once in everyone's life when they feel obsolete. "Out with the old, in with the young," as up-and-comer Miller boasts about her talkie debut. This adage certainly holds true in an era of constant turnover, the insatiable demand for new technology, the increasing dominance of the web and the havoc it has wreaked on countless industries and jobs that have ceased or will cease to exist. All that will be left are artifacts, nostalgia and stories prompted by the question, "Remember when?"
There is a powerful, devastating moment when Valentin arrives at the film studio for shooting in the morning and finds that it has literally shut down overnight after the smashing success of the first talkie. The scene will resonate with anyone who has experienced going from valued to immediately replaceable it has been played out in offices across America with increasing frequency in recent years.
It takes talented actors to revive a cinematic style that has long ago ceased to exist. Dujardin and Bejo were pitch-perfect, giving nuanced, emotional performances. The over-the-top "mugging" we're accustomed to in classic silent films was saved for the scenes on set. In the portions of the film set offstage, the acting is more subdued yet still slightly enhanced in order to more clearly communicate with the audience. I can't wait to see what the stars of this film do next. This includes Uggie, the terrier chiefly responsible for portraying Jack - that adorable pooch almost stole every scene it was in.
I encourage everyone to see "The Artist." Forget about the fact that it is silent. It's a movie that anyone can enjoy, a poignant film with heart and soul that will stick with you long after you leave the theater. I found myself wishing that the movie's infectious score would follow me along and continue to narrate my everyday life. Classic film fanatics will especially delight in the nods to great moments in cinema past. It is littered with silent film trivia throughout, and contains scenes in homage to some of the most memorable images from classic movies - such as the infamous grapefruit scene in "The Public Enemy" (starring James Cagney and Mae Clarke) and the "Sunset Boulevard" scene wherein a deranged Norma Desmond appeases her ego by watching films from her glory days. Dujardin recreates this with aplomb, simultaneously making it his own.
I believe "The Artist" deserves every Academy Award that it was nominated for and will likely receive on Feb. 26. It is, in a word, delightful.
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