The LAMB Devours the Oscars: The Artist
Presented for the first time at Cannes' film festival, many observers noticed that this uncompromised Silent Film would have a long reach within the movie goers of this world. Shot in the aspect ratio of the time it represents, 1.33:1 also known as the "Academy ratio", and in a beautiful black and white that revives the era of silent films, Michel Hazanavicius wanted to craft a film that reminded him of the classic musicals of the 1930's. He explains that using this ratio gives the actors "a presence, a power, a strength".
With such a work of revival it cries nostalgia all over the place and sometimes, we cinephiles, love to be reminded of the good "ol' tymes". The fact that they used Mary Pickford's house and bed, Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly's studio for the filming of the dancing scenes, the location shooting at the Warner Bros studios and Paramount, and even the controversial use of Bernard Herrmann's love theme of Vertigo just confirms how much admiration Hazanavicius demonstrates to his predecessors. It is also as many other observers have said, a vibrant homage to the pioneers of the Art, the media, and the industry.
But does the public responded to the echo of the past? The numbers of the Box Office can't lie on what the public is willing to watch: in France it grossed more than 9,5 millions Euros and in the USA, on the date of February 5th 2012, it actually grossed more than 20 millions US$. Let's project that the nominations announcement may help the gross total of this release in North America. These numbers, put in the perspective that it is a black and white silent film concurring with many 3D releases and full Dolby Surround Digital with top of the art visual effects, makes this achievement even more impressive.
On the critics' side of things, The Artist scores at 89/100 on Metascore and holds a solid 97% rating by the critics and 91% by the audience on Rotten Tomatoes. The regular voters at IMDb gave it a strong 8.4 which places it at the 125th spot on the Top 250 of all-time on IMDb. Obviously, the success story of The Artist made the film a strong contender for the Academy Awards. Don't forget that the Academy loves to vote for success stories. Moreover, the best indicators and the most accurate preview for the award season are the previous ceremonies held before the Oscars:
- 12 nominations at the BAFTA Awards (Cinematography, Costume Design, Director, Editing, Film, Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Make Up & Air, Original Music, Original Screenplay, Sound)
- Won the Best lead for Jean Dujardin at Cannes Film Festival and nominated for the Palme d'Or (Best Film)
- Winner of 3 Golden Globes for Best Musical or Comedy, Best Original Score - Motion Picture, Best Performance by an Actor - Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy Jean Dujardin
- ...and many other serious Associations and Guilds.
It makes The Artist a serious contender for the ten nominations it received. And, if you ask me, it will probably reach the podium and win the most desired statuette of the night.
Speaking of the film let's discuss and review or critique if you prefer the motion picture.
George Valentin was the biggest star of films in 1927; his ego is bigger than life and his success is oversized. But like technology, he soon gets outdated by the appearance of talkies. Just like Charlie Chaplin, Valentin refuses to believe that the public wants to see talking people on the screen. He considers himself as an artist and what he strongly believes to be Art is Silent films. Valentin will listen to no one when it comes to advice or opinion about his work. His own pride will defeat him. On the Chaplin comparisons some elements of this character are direct references to the interpret of the Tramp: no other actor ever had such a triumph, he was the first actor to be paid a million dollars, etc. For those who know: the painting of Valentin that we recurrently see in the film is a bit to Chaplin's portrait of the same nature and style. There are also references in the roles of Valentin towards Douglas Fairbanks. Especially for the adventure genre roles he used to be famous for. Add in a girl, a gun and you complete Jean-Luc Godard's famous saying that all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun. Well, this is almost true in this case, but I would add a dog. Uggy the dog gives superb moments in the film.
However, the audaciousness of making a Silent film, in black and white, depicting the Classic Hollywood of the late 1920's and 1930's doesn't stand up to fully support the body of the script. The opening and the ending are extremely well executed and they are moments of pure cinematic bliss. What tarnishes the gloss is that the movie is too conscious of being a Silent film. Also, the script should have been reworked to lesser the emphasize on the fall of George Valentin and broaden the interactions of the supporting cast. On the other hand, Jean Dujardin as Valentin gives a superbly subtle performance of perfect restraint. As for Berenice Bejo who plays Peppy Miller, it is more a hit or miss case: her comedic moments are perfect but the dramatic ones lack of depth.
It is hard to fully love or dislike The Artist. The weak and almost bland story stops me from calling it a great film. However, the many Classic film references tickles the cinephile that I am. And there are many and some are pretty obvious and boldly present: Citizen Kane, Hitchcock, A Star Is Born, Singin' In the Rain, Battleship Potemkin, Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Tod Browning, Jean-Luc Godard (carefully watch some specific scenes and I bet you'll find them), and many other films. On one side I really liked noticing those references to classic films and it was a delight to see that I'm not alone to dig those pictures. Nevertheless, as I read lately a director named Quentin Tarantino does this kind of cross references into his films to amuse himself and pay tribute to his idols. But QT uses those references with keen purposes. It also helps the flow of the story of his films. Tarantino injects his references and homages like a mad scientist trying to foul everyone and makes it look like if he invented the tricks himself. Just have a look at his Inglourious Basterds: he used Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be, Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen, the original version of Inglorious Bastards, lots of Sergio Leone elements, and many other references that aren't relevant here. The fact is, that all the winks in The Artist don't keep the flow of the story up enough and sometimes feel more like crutches to the script than actual feeding elements.
In sum, this cute attempt at a Silent film has this innocent charm that makes the movie work. I just hope it will get more people interested in the discovery of the Silent film era and the masterpieces that the Golden Age of films has given to the posterity.