Cast:Jean Dujardin,Bérénice Bejo,Uggie
Indian Express Ratings:****
At a crowded film premiere,a pretty girl gets pushed into the milling orbit of a big star. It is one of those moments that change lives. Flashbulbs pop. The next morning,the dailies splash out with a juicy Who’s That Girl? And we are joyously,swingingly picked up by ‘The Artist’,and plonked in front of a black-and-white silent film,set in the late 1920s Hollywood,there to experience the delights of a movie that celebrates the movies as they used to be.
It is 1927,just before the Great Depression. Successful star George Valentin (Dujardin) is on the downslope of a successful career and doesn’t want to know it. He strides across the front of the auditorium,faithful dog Uggie at his heels,bowing to the audience as much as to himself. He’s the man they come to watch. And then one day,they don’t. Adoring fans queue up for Peppy Miller (Bejo),the new singing-dancing-talking sensation; inside another theatre,where Valentin’s ambitious,self-financed silent film has opened the same day,there are only a few unmoved viewers. His producer (Goodman) is ready for the switch,but the star refuses to yield,turning away from troubled wife (Miller) and constant valet (Cromwell).
The fact that Peppy is the same girl who landed in George’s arms that fateful night is a crafted-for-the-movies irony ‘The Artist’ makes a delicious meal of,and the feast,bursting with great acts and skilful signposts,helps us ignore the film’s sluggish start. From there on,it builds up to a tour de force,maintaining complete felicity to the art form it is a tribute to. No kitsch,no campiness. Just pure cinema. Love,expressed without reservation on the part of the girl who’s clearly on the way up; Reluctant pride,leaching out in dribs and drabs from the man who has no where to go but down. And a smooth ride into an uptempo,upbeat end.
Both Dujardin and Bejo are terrific : he nails the conflicted soul of a egotistic star with a nice core,getting us to both make a face at him and like him. And she is utterly vibrant in her cloche hats,primped curls,heavily outlined mouth : both are nominated for Oscar awards,him for Best Actor,her for a best supporting act; ‘The Artist’ is a near-shoo in for Best Film,with 10 nominations.
Watching a film like ‘The Artist’ is a many-layered thing. Here you are,in 2012,where entire films can be made on computers,being made aware of a forgotten,faintly-remembered era when silence was the default mode of the movies,underpinned by subtitles and music-in-the-pit of the theatre. ‘The Artist’ is a wonderful throwback to a time when they knew how to tell stories. I had a large smile plastered on my face when the end credits rolled.