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A Review of The Artist, Out On DVD/BluRay Today

Written by Alexander Tucker   // 06/26/2012

The Artist

Expectations: Minimal, really. Actually, I never once saw the trailer for this movie anywhere. I didn’t see it online, I didn’t see it before another film. I saw the poster once in a movie theatre and I was curious. I heard a bit more about it around film blogs and of course, Oscar predictions. But once I saw the 97% postive rating the film had on Rotten Tomatoes I knew I had to check it out.
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I love old movies. I am one of the few in my generation who actually enjoys movies in black and white. I love Audrey Hepburn, Carey Grant, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford. My appreciation for films of old has always been high. Without the classics, we wouldn’t be where we are today in film and they deserve utmost respect. This past year has obviously been one of film nostalgia, hence Hugo. However, The Artist takes the cake.
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The Artist takes place in Hollywood in 1927 as silent movie star, George Valentin (Dujardin) begins to wonder if the new-fangled talking pictures will make him a thing of the past. He also befriends Peppy Miller (Bejo) a young dancer who is poised for her big break into Hollywood.
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The film is mostly silent. I can’t really tell why it is mostly silent unless you’ve seen it. It is also in black and white. The cherry-on-top is the fact that it isn’t even shown in widescreen, as widescreen in the era did not yet exist. You may wonder how the movie could roll along without sound. How can a movie tell us how to feel if we never hear the actors speak? You’d be surprised.

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In an early scene in the film (spoiler-free, I promise) you come across a moment where you, and the rest of the audience, will be expecting a sound. The expectation is instinctive. We are conditioned to expect this particular noise after a particular action and when the sound doesn’t reach our ears it is almost jarring. We see the actors on screen react to the noise we never heard and the moment is charming, funny, and interesting. This moment is one of many moments that truly demonstrates how brilliantly the film was directed.

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There is minimal captioning in the film. By captioning I mean that thing they used to do in old movies where they would hold up a placard with the words on the card. There are probably less than twenty captioned bits of dialogue shown, and yet we manage to understand nearly every word said, regardless. This isn’t because I am a trained lip-reader, nor do I suspect others are either. The screenplay was written in such a brilliant and simple way that through context alone, the viewer never felt lost. I always knew what was happening. I may not be able to tell you every word spoken. This will not be a movie you can quote one day out of context that everyone will know. But the way the actors acted, and the way the story was written, allowed the viewer to look at the situation, the expression on the actor’s face and know: this is what’s happening.

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How unusual it is for this to happen. We are a generation that needs constant exposition. How often is it that we walk into a high-budget action film and are told, multiple times by multiple actors, what the plan is to break into the high security vault. Sometimes it feels like Hollywood thinks the audience isn’t capable of following along with their tried-and-true plot. While I am not saying that exposition isn’t needed (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is evidence enough of that) we don’t needquite so much of it.

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The ArtistAnother interesting feature of this film was how honestly funny it was. There were so many funny moments. It was quite charming, actually. The dancing was marvelous. The costumes were beautiful. What is about black and white that makes the women look so lovely? One of the most beautiful sounds in this movie was the silence in the audience, broken only by laugher or contented sighs.

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If you’ve ever seen a real silent film you know that there is a lot of overacting. This was done because there was no sound and the actors felt a need to make sure their emotions were truly known. Eventually, when talking films finally came in to the world and overacting was no longer needed, the habit stuck a little bit. I was watching Gone with the Wind a few months ago and my husband made a comment about how he didn’t like the acting. He thought it was too dramatic. I reminded him that talking movies had only been made for so long, and they still weren’t used to how to act. It was a style of acting, a style that turns many people off to old movies even today.

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There was no overacting in The Artist. Only, perhaps, the most perfect acting I’ve ever seen. Everything was spot-on-perfect. Dujardin’s charming smile was more than enough to win over any movie-goer. Bejo’s gorgeous, classic face and geniune tears were things of fairy-tales. I expect Dujardin to win Best Actor at this year’s Oscars. Unfortunately, Bejo is up against Viola Davis (The Help) for Best Actress. My hopes aren’t as high in that department.

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The ArtistHazanavicius’s direction was incredible. He truly made this film his own. What David Fincher failed to do in Dragon TattooHazanavicius did in leaps and bounds in The Artist. He put his own unique thumbprint all over the film. In the brief moments that allow sound alone you can see his unique perspective. He thought of things that would have never occured to me. He truly highlighted the importance of communication, and made it clear that you do not need to speak to be heard. I can safely say that without saying a word, everyone in the audience in my theater heard Dujardin. I heard him loud and clear.

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Conclusion: When my mom, sisters and I were settling into our seats I told them, “You are probably about to see this year’s winner for Best Picture”. I was right. The awards haven’t happened yet, but I know that I am right. The Artist was, without a doubt, the best movie I have seen all  year. I remember when I left the theatre after seeing The King’s Speech. I knew, right away, that movie was magical and that it would be a winner. I spent all this year watching movies waiting to feel the same emotion. I felt close, on many films like Hugo and Jane Eyre. But The Artist was the first jackpot winner.

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I recommend this movie to everyone. It can be said that it will only appeal to a certain audience, but I don’t care. I think this movie transends generational gaps, prefences, and other prejudices against old films. This film isn’t old. It is new. But it is made in a way that pays tribute to those long forgotten actors and actresses, those black and white artists, who first paved the way to give us the movies we love today.
See this movie. You won’t regret it.


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