Saturday, December 17, 2011

Michel Hazanavicius: Tripping the Limelight Fantastic (The Artist)

Jean Dujardin, The Artist, Weinstein Co., 2011.

The nitrate glow of Hollywood's golden age gets a resuscitation by none other than the French. Gifted director Michel Hazanavicius molds an homage to the cinemas past which is both refreshing and moving. The novelty of the creation is definitely eclipsed in the end by the sheer invigoration of the whole affair.

Anchored by the strength of Jean Dujardin's enveloping turn as silent film star George Valentin, his inviting face, kind eyes and strappingly debonair build belying the purity of his intentions, as he succumbs to the wretched onslaught of sound. The fact that nobody has made a feature length silent film portraying similar events is surprising; this rise and fall story utilizes its style to comment on its subject, a visceral effect which only magnifies the magic on-screen.

Although the story is a war horse, Hazanavicius' culling of the visual and thematic trademarks of silent cinema breaks down those standardized walls. We are enchanted as we are swept up.

Berenice Bejo dazzles as Peppy Miller, a young extra who gets a big break which sees her star rising as Valentin's falls. Their unrequited love story and divide is integral to the structure. Hazanavicius has fun with his casting. A film about Hollywood, made by and starring the French in the leads would never be complete without a slew of American character actors filling out the supporting ranks. John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Ken Davidian and Beth Grant play second ran deliciously.

The camera births a beauty all its own whilst paying homage: Guillame Schiffman grafts a web of nostalgia with his lens, honoring what has to be the helmer's main inspiration: George Cukor's irreplaceable What Price Hollwood? (1933) and the first of its re-makes: William A. Wellman's A Star is Born (1937). All of the glory and sadness of those backstage showbiz classics are evident as well. Ludovic Bource's music score is pitch-perfect, its imitation of silent film music breaking the mold and soaring into charmingly new heights for film music and its importance as a pivotal function of the completed flick.

For all of its charms, its allegiance, its depth of expression, the dance numbers and especially the dog, Hazanivicius' new picture is inseperable from all of our pasts, as he offers us his hand as we go tripping the limelight fantastic.

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