Sunday, February 26, 2012
'The Artist' shows the magic of cinema riding on deep emotions
One went into 'The Artist' with a certain misgiving. How can there be an interesting silent film at this time when we are so used to the magic of sound as such? But director Michel Hazanavicius shows what can be done through a sincere narrative without gimmicks. At one level the film traces the history of film, the inevitable progression from silent films to talkies. The artists caught in this transition pay an emotional price. For George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), the star of the silent era is pushed over the precipice with the arrival of talkies. The studio owners have no sentimental attachment to any particular genre and they embrace talkies with the zeal of businessmen for a new product. Valentin is unable to accept the change. From defiance he sinks into despair. Jean Dujardin shows this transition with admirable finesse. He throws the last challenge by making a movie of his own, "Tears of Love"which flops in the face of a talkie in which his new friend Pepe Miller (Berenice Bejo) stars. But Pepe is attracted and attached to Valentin, and despite her initial brashness at her success and at her moment of victory, she remains loyal to the hero of the preceding era. And she pulls him out of his own hell. Valentin reincarnates himself as a dancing star for the talkies.
The storyline is simple, melodramatic and sentimental. Hazanavicius makes it a memorable film by recapitulating the silent era ethos and technology with a certain meticulousness. More importantly, he depicts accurately the changing mores of cinematic technology. But what remains constant is the star system and the fluctuating adulation of the moviegoers. They abandon stars they admire for new ones. "Fresh meat"says one of the studio bosses, and Valentin scoffs.
There are the wonderful directorial touches. Valentin stands at the back of the auditorium as he watches the near empty auditorium screening his film, and in the balcony sits Peppe with tears in her eyes as she watches the wonderful film and its tragic ending. Then Valentin walks out and watches the serpentine queues for the new talkie film. He auctions first his suit and shoes which fetches him little, and out of that he drops money for charity at the pawn shop. Then he auctions all his stuff, and the auctioneer tells him that all has been sold and he (Valentin) has nothing left. The auctioneer proclaims it as a success of his professional ability. There are umpteen heart-wrenching and heart-warming scenes in the two-hour film.
The change from silent to talkies also comes at the time of the Great Depression, and there is a connection between the drastic shift from silent era to talkies at a time of social upheaval.
Three histories are running parallel in this film: that of cinema itself; of the artists -- the rising ones and the fading ones; and that of society. And all of them are subjected to twists and turns which is what life is all about. The movie becomes memorable because it remains true to life.
Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo performed brilliantly which soulful and even sublime.
This film should garner enough Oscars because it is a tribute to cinema, and Hollywood is sentimental about life and cinema.
'The Artist' is old world Europe doffing its hat to new world America for connecting the past with the future.
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