Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Premise: Set in Hollywood at the end of the 1920s, a silent film star finds himself out of work when sound is introduced into filmmaking.
What Works: The year 2011 had a large number of films that were self-reflexive, metatextual, or made sport of the filmmaking process, ranging from Martin Scorcese’s Hugo to Tom Six’s The Human Centipede 2. One of the most successful at this was The Artist, which uses the format and style of films of the silent era such as the 1.37:1 picture ratio, inter-titles, black and white footage, and a Franz Waxman-like music score. By doing this, the filmmakers of The Artist draw attention to the techniques of filmmaking and how technology shapes the way we experience the world. This is shown most clearly through the performance by actor Jean Dujardin, as his movements and facial expressions at the beginning of the film are consistent with the overly expressive and theatrical acting styles of the silent era but by the end he behaves in a more subtle and natural manner. But while all this sounds like something only a viewer with a degree in film theory would appreciate, The Artist manages to be accessible to a wide audience because this film possesses something a lot of 2011’s summer tent pole pictures lacked: a heart. The Artist is about a man put out of work by changing technology and the story is compelling enough that it doesn’t matter that there is no audible dialogue. Despite the special effects and hyperactive editing of many summer blockbusters in 2011, The Artist is much more satisfying because of its sense of fun and coherent narrative, and the scenes of Dujardin’s character performing with his dog are far more entertaining than computer generated fights between giant robots.
What Doesn’t: The Artist is not a particularly deep film. In many ways it is little more than a trifle and its Hollywood rags-to-riches-to-rags storyline follows a familiar template. Nothing in it is done poorly but there is a lot about the narrative that is familiar from almost every story about show business.
Bottom Line: The Artist is, like its main character, very charming and likable. That it also manages to be a bold experiment in cinema form and technique makes it among the most exceptional films of 2011.
Episode: #372 (January 22, 2012)