The movie is an homage to silent films and old Hollywood in general, as it tells the story of George Valentin a superstar in the silent era, but as "talkies" make their way he struggles to find his place in the world. Bringing together longtime collaborators Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, along with a supporting cast featuring small but strong turns from John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller, Hazanivicius makes us all remember how magical silent films can be.
The story of an aging star who is unable to keep up with the changing face of entertainment is not a new one. If anyone has seen Hazanicius' OSS series knows the guy loves film and loves to pull influence from classic pieces of cinema. The plot alone has remnants of Singin in the Rain, as well as referencing the career of John Gilbert. These references manage to stay fresh and original rather than ever feeling like he's simply copying bits and pieces. The director weaves these influences together along with his own story and gives us a great silent film, that honors silent film. His cinematographer deserves a lot of credit for keeping the soft focus, as well as crafting scenes that popped in the black and white. Together they bring a classical sense of cinema to life without feeling old. His use of close-ups highlights the amazing performances of Dujardin and Berenice.
This being a silent film, he fills it with visual gags. Many including a precocious puppy that follows around George Valentin. An early scene at the breakfast table is brillianted acted by Dujardin and the dog, I can't imagine how long that must've taken for the dog to cooperate in the proper manner. Along with setting up visual gags, he uses his frame to tell the story. There is a constant theme of stairs, representing the coming and going of fame. As people move up some move down and vice versa. At a key point in the film Valentin begins to walk down stairs never up, and from then on the director highlights each time he steps down stairs. The actors home is another important piece in telling the story, whereas Valentin begins in a nice mansion he ends up in a tiny apartment, and ultimately a destroyed apartment left with nothing but the films he made. A rather obvious but well executed representation of the trajectory and mental state of our hero.
The director does an amazing job at creating a gorgeous looking film, and tells his story wonderfully, but his main lead really carry the film fantastically. Dujardin does amazing work, continuing the tongue in cheek performance of OSS 117, and bringing more emotional weight to give a full well rounded performance. He takes the actor from the highest of highs, to hitting rock bottom and always is mesmerizing to watch. He nails the silent film star smile and wears every emotion on his face and in his eyes. Right, now my picks for best actor are Ryan Gosling in Drive, Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, Michael Fassbender in Shame, and Jean Dujardin in The Artist. I'd probably say Fassbender is still my favorite performance but they all deserve a nomination and I hope they recognize Dujardin despite it being a silent film.
This is a wonderful film, that celebrates the history of cinema. Hazanivicius has graduated to a new level of film-making and I am completely on board. He brings so much energy and joyfulness to his film-making, that in a world of cynicism his works represent a refreshing dose of love that we all can enjoy. I challenge anyone to sit through the film and not be charmed by his whimsical story and wonderful actors. Great film, perfect ending to a festival dedicated to a love of cinema. Except...one more left.
One last thought - there are two scenes in which "sound" is used. Both of them are masterfully done.