Direction: Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo
It’s a truly lost art. Over the years a handful of directors, among them Mel Brooks (Silent Movie- 1976) and Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki (Juha-1999), have with varying degrees of success embraced the aesthetics of silent cinema to tell their stories.
Now add Michel Hazanavicius and The Artist to the list. Ever since its premiere at last year’s Cannes film festival, this black-and-white French silent feature has garnered international acclaim. Routinely ranked among the best films of 2011, it is also the frontrunner for the Oscars to be announced next week.
Sorry to say, but in this case silence is so not golden. A purported love letter to the halcyon Hollywood era, the director draws on plot elements as well as snatches of background music from a wide range of classics (mostly talkies) such as A Star is Born, Singing in the Rain, Vertigo and even An Affair to Remember.
Intriguingly, too, he shot the movie on colour stock which was later converted to black-and-white in post-production. One desperately wants to enjoy the cinematic escapade but the fun eventually wears thin as the familiar narrative fails to illuminate the magic of the movies during its infancy.
Set on the cusp of the talkies, the uncluttered romantic comedy traces the down-up trajectory of two stars’ careers. A dashing matinee idol (Dujardin) falls into oblivion even as a former chorus-girl (Bejo) attains unexpected stardom.
Chock-a-block with such silent cinema tropes as inter-titles, irises and superimpositions, the wordless ‘old film’ does have some striking scenes like the extended tap-dance at the climax.
Besides John Cromwell as the loyal man Friday, none of the other actors makes as vivid an impression as the acrobatic terrier dog named Uggy.
If this pleasant little trifle rekindles a desire to catch up with original silent classics, then The Artist would at least have served a useful purpose.