By Theda Kleinhans Reichman, Special to the Van Nuys News Press
“The Artist,” a loving tribute to early cinema, is an homage to an era when films were silent, shot in luminous black and white. Like the early films of the 20th century, “The Artist” speaks wordless volumes as it tells a colorful story in black and white. It has captivated audiences with it’s wit, romance, pathos, exuberance and an adorable performance by a Jack Russell terrier named “Uggie.” Michel Hazanavicius has long admired the filmmakers from the 1920s and after the success of his “OSS 117” thrillers, producers gave him the chance to make “The Artist,” starring Jean Dujardin in the title role and the director’s wife Berenice Bejo as the vivacious Peppy Miller.
He wrote the screen play in four months, based on his extensive study of Hollywood films from the 1920s. Much of the plot is based on the melodrama, a film style he felt had aged best over time. He also chose the best techniques from that time frame so he could tell his story seamlessly without having to use too many inter titles. The result is a French film with many American stars that was written in France and filmed in Hollywood. And voila, what many in the industry felt was a gamble has turned out to be an artistic success. “The Artist” received six Golden Globe nominations and won three, is on over 100 Top Ten Lists and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, five of which it won, including Best Picture, Best Director for Hazanavicius, and Best Actor for Dujardin. Dujardin, a star in France, personifies star-power, charm and the suave matinee idol good looks of the period and Bejo is perfect as Peppy Miller, the charmer who is able to evolve from silent movies to talkies with ease.
Dujardin feels the talking film is just a passing fancy and refuses to speak and at this point the melodrama aspect comes into play as Peppy’s star ascends and his fades rapidly. What is amazing about this movie is how beautifully the story unfolds. And if there were doggie Oscars, Uggie would be a shoe-in for his heart-warming, scene-stealing performance. I give him four Woof Woofs. Bejo is not only lovely to look at, she is also able to dance and act beautifully. One of her most charming scenes is with a coat hanging on a rack. When she slips her arm into Dujardin’s coat sleeve and wraps it around her slender body you know just how she feels about the handsome star who has given her the chance to appear with him on screen. He too is charmed by her when he enters his dressing room and finds her there.
James Cromwell is perfect as the loyal chauffeur and John Goodman does a fine job as the studio head who sees sound as the wave of the future for film making. He offers his leading man a chance to switch into the new medium, but is turned down. The darker scenes that follow are true melodrama, but when things verge on tragic there is always the presence of little Uggie to make us laugh. The dog, his loyal chauffeur and beautiful Peppy remain the star’s only true friends. Fewer than 25 words are spoken, but the story is clearly told. It is a treat to see how all the film genres we cherish today evolved from the masterworks of a silent era when stars used their facial expressions and gestures to convey their emotions. Words were never spoken, they were just flashed upon the screen for clarity. Other plus factors are the gorgeous black and white cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman and the amazing score by Ludovic Bource which also deserve Oscar consideration. “The Artist” is a remarkable, innovative motion picture that certainly deserved its Oscar gold. The Weinstein Co., rated PG-13.