The Artist

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artistActress Berenice Bejo is the adorable and shy fan who wants to get an autograph from movie star Jean Dujardin. In one of those meet-cute moments, they literally bump into each other and a photo is taken. She’ll eventually become a star, but didn’t have to sleep with the star to get there (or the nasty studio head, played by John Goodman). In real life, Bejo is sleeping with the director, Michel Hazanavioius, who also wrote the movie.

He didn’t do a lot of “writing” as the film is basically A Star is Born mixed with Singin’ in the Rain, and just a dash of Sunset Boulevard; but what an interesting vision.

Just as Hugo was Martin Scorsese’s love letter to early cinema, this is a love letter to the silent film era.

Hugo got me thinking about Georges Melies and Harold Lloyd, and how most people don’t even know who they were…this movie got me thinking about Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Buster Keaton, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish.

Sure, it’s a bit of a fluff piece, but so what? If you’re watching a movie and enjoying the world it takes you…isn’t that all that matters?

Since the director cast his lover as the lead, I immediately thought about how in the late 20s, they liked their actresses a bit bigger. I also thought about how actors talk about having to audition for parts. I wondered with established actors like Goodman and James Cromwell (who played the loyal driver), if they had to show how expressive their faces and body language could be.

The show is almost stolen by the Jack Russell Terrier, who makes you forget about the one from Beginners.

There are two groups of people that aren’t going to care for this movie — the folks that don’t like subtitles or indie films and just want to see the latest Nicolas Cage or Adam Sandler movie; and the people that know so much about movies and have silent films they love. They’d rather you go find City Lights, Metropolis, etc. They’ll be bothered that this isn’t as good as some of those classics.

If you have the patience to enjoy this wonderful experience, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best films of the year.

There’s a dream sequence that’s mesmerizing, and the best cigar smoking in a movie theatre since Robert De Niro in Cape Fear.

There’s a great musical score and creative scenes. One shot has Bejo looking at a film Dujardin had been clutching in his hand…and it was more romantic than anything I’ve seen in awhile.

When he refuses to do the new “talkies” and finances his own silent film, we see him depressed as he watches the dailies while she is enraptured watching him on screen. It’s a wonderful moment.

When Dujardin is having a fight with his wife (Penelope Ann Miller, who coincidentally had a role in Chaplin), it’s has a funny double meaning when she says “Why do you refuse to talk?”

There’s just the right amount of us having to read lips, and not an overuse of title cards. There is some pathos in the scenes of an aging movie star looking at himself in a store window with a tuxedo on, or having a person seemingly recognize him…and just wanting to instead pet his cute dog. Although I never felt as bad for him as the filmmakers probably wanted you to. That could be because the story was predictable, or we felt he had a longer run in Hollywood than most.

Their chemistry together is magnificent (which is all the more important when it’s a silent movie).

You probably already missed Hugo (rent it), so why not catch the second best movie about early cinema to come out this year.

It gets 4 out of 5 stars.

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