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“I won’t talk!” – On the differences between classic and cliché in “The Artist”

December 25, 2011 1 comment

After a long hiatus, I’m excited to return to Apple&Orion with a Christmas review!  Along with Orion and our guest critic, Kathy Huang, I spent the afternoon watching “The Artist.”  It was hard to find a theatre playing it, as the film has limited release, but we were able to meet up at the Regal Lincolnshire Cinema.  The limited release isn’t surprises: despite sweeping the Cannes festival and pulling in six Golden Globe nominations, “The Artist” is not only filmed in black-and-white, but is a silent film.

Surprisingly, the lack of color and spoken dialogue did not cause as much of an intrusion as I expected it to.  It was actually really easy to get used to, definitely more so than 3D glasses, and allowed us as the audience to devote our attention to visual cues.  The premise is simple: George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a famous movie star whose career takes a punch with the introduction of the talkies.  Simultaneously, newcomer Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) rises to fame, riding on the crest of this new technology addition to cinema.  It’s clear from the beginning that George and Peppy are attracted to each other, and that their careers are on opposite trajectories; in one scene, Peppy and George bump into each other on a staircase, with Peppy on a higher flight, actively leading the conversation.

From the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, where “The Artist” claims a remarkable 100% from Top Critics, 97% from all critics, and even 90% from an unusually positive audience, I was expecting a mindblowing experience.  However, I was disappointed to find a relatively predictable storyline, with bland characters that I didn’t particularly care for.  The best actor was by far the dog, a little terrier named Uggie.  There’s a happy ending, fitting for a holiday film, but I found the whole thing rather slow-paced.  Orion insists that there are many references that we simply miss, being much too young to ever have seen a black-and-white film, much less a silent one.  However, there is a line between classic and cliché, and at least for me, “The Artist” dabbled too much in predictability to be worth recommending.

If anything, I have to say that the form rescues the film from sheer drudgery.  There are so many little places where it’s clear the filmmakers are playing with us, and these are the strongest parts of the film.  In the first scene, we watch an audience watching a silent film, with captioned words and an orchestra providing the music; in another scene, after the idea of talking films is introduced, George suddenly notices the sound his cup makes hitting the table.  It’s little moments like these that justify the film’s form as silent, and I also appreciated how the soundtrack was able to really inform us of emotions, even without dialogue.  There are quite a few conversations where characters speak that are not followed by captions, and so the audience is left wondering, but many times, we realize that it doesn’t matter what was said.  This in and of itself is an interesting effect, and I wish it had been played with more in the film.

Overall, 3/5 – an interesting play with form, but a much plainer film that I had been expecting.  See it if you’re interested in a unique experience, but don’t expect to fall for any of the characters.

Merry Christmas,

Apple

See also: Orion’s review; Kathy Huang’s guest review!

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