“The Artist” is a time machine. And it’s a love letter.
It’s a throwback to an era of cinema I have little connection with — and, frankly, one I didn’t think I could be so richly entertained by.
But it’s also slyly modern, with a winking sense of humor that isn’t just rooted in blind nostalgia. Because, let’s face it, the good old days were sometimes anything but.
In an era when 3D movies are the new “talkies,” releasing a (mostly) silent black-and-white film seems either quaint or gimmicky. “The Artist” surprisingly manages to be neither of those things — though it’s plenty warm and fuzzy.
When we meet George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) in 1927, he’s a huge star of the silent screen. After the debut of his new film, he accidentally bumps into a starstruck aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). This chance encounter helps Peppy land small roles in silent films.
When the studio begins to introduce sound to film, George scoffs and declares, “If that’s the future, you can have it.”
Of course, that is the future. As the rapid tide of sound pictures engulfs the industry, George and Peppy find their careers take off in opposite directions.
French director Michel Hazanavicius has crafted such a loving throwback. The film is not only silent, it’s shot in the “Academy” aspect ratio (1.33:1), which seems especially old-timey now that widescreen televisions are the norm.
“The Artist” worked for me even though I’m not particularly a disciple of this era of Hollywood.
It’s light on “dialogue” — even the use of title cards is rather limited — but Hazanavicius’ script tells a rollicking story full of romance and redemption.
Most importantly, he makes great use of his gimmick. There are nods everywhere to the irony of a silent film in an age unhampered by technology. The double meaning when George’s wife pointedly tells him, “George, we need to talk” made me literally laugh out loud.
Anchored by the wildly charming Dujardin in the lead, “The Artist” is so warm and entertaining, it will leave you speechless. And smiling.