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Review

‘The Artist’ conveys an old school movie style

March 9, 2012

A well-crafted movie will trick viewers into forgetting that they are looking at a screen by immersing them with a polished presentation and engrossing plot.

The silent-era throwback “The Artist” does just the opposite. This charming and unique movie ditches modern flair in order to emphasize the artistry behind the filmmaking process.

Set in the late 1920s, “The Artist” depicts Hollywood at a crossroads. Veteran silent film star George Valentin, played by French actor Jean Dujardin, is at the peak of his popularity.

With a wink and smile he sets off a crowd of swooning women. One of them is the cheerful and appropriately named Peppy Miller, played by Bérénice Bejo. Miller is the new face of Hollywood, an up-and-coming starlet in the emerging era of talkies--an era that has no need for an old, silent dog like Valentin.

The most noteworthy and immediately noticeable aspect of “The Artist” is that it is presented as a silent film. Minus a brief dream sequence with a handful of sound effects, the only sound to be heard is the booming musical score. There is a small amount of dialogue, but it is relayed through title cards.

Making a silent, black-and- white movie in the era of IMAX and 3D was certainly a risky choice, one that will likely alienate a large portion of the movie-going public. Indeed, the style presents a barrier to enjoying the movie. With audiences so accustomed to flashy, big-budget productions, the prospect of a silent film will seem boring to many.

The reality is that “The Artist” is a boring movie, at least in the sense that it does not assault the viewer with immediate gratification. The movie requires viewers to meet it half way.

There is beauty in the craftsmanship, but much of it rests beneath the surface. If audiences can keep an open mind and just sit tight through the opening scenes, they will find a rewarding movie experience unlike anything else playing in theaters.

Without much dialogue to drive the story, the plot is told primarily through visuals. Much of this rests on the actors delivering very physical performances.

They convey emotion through facial expression and body language just as effectively as they could with spoken language.

By forcing the actors to focus on the fundamentals of their craft, “The Artist” reveals the artistry behind acting. When watching a movie it is common to forget that the characters are being brought to life by the skills of an actor, but “The Artist” puts the role of the actor at center stage.

The exemplary cast, which also includes the likes of John Goodman and James Cromwell, has phenomenal screen presence. The title of the movie could be referring to any -- or all -- of these talented actors.

On a similar note, the lack of dialogue and sound effects also brings the musical score to the forefront. With so much attention paid to the music, “The Artist” showcases the importance of sound in filmmaking.

Be it setting mood or keeping tempo, the interplay between audio and visual is crucial to the success of this movie -- and that connection is pulled off flawlessly.

Although I feel sorry for any kids forced to sit through it, “The Artist” is a real treat for movie lovers.

It is a celebration of the art form, everything from its history, to film technique and the people who make it all possible. An original gem like this does not come along often.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.

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