Silence is golden. . . maybe

The Artist is a much cheekier film than I had expected going in, because as much as it strives for (and attains) authenticity it also spends a good deal of time winking at those who don’t like (or at least think they don’t like) silent films.

Its story is a sort of mash-up of Singing in the rain (1952) and Sunset Boulevard (1950) — the first being a film about the inception of the “talkie” and a young starlet who makes it big because she has a better voice than the current big name (a less squeaky one, at least), and the latter being about a washed-up silent film star left behind by her former industry to go mad in solitude. Admittedly, The Artist functions much better when it’s closer to the former, but the winks help with the latter.

These “winks” that I keep mentioning mostly come in the form of melodrama, especially towards the end, which gets to be a bit. . . much. But there are also a few clever uses of sound here and there. Hearing Jean Dujardin’s thick, French accent at the film’s end is especially fun.

Speaking of Dujardin, the casting is phenomenal. None of the actors, even the highly recognizable ones (John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell), feel out of place. But man, does Dujardin look at home in black and white! Roger Ebert described him as a cross between Sean Connery and Gene Kelly, which is pretty apropos. Berenice Bejo as the plucky young Peppy Miller doesn’t do half bad herself, with her winning smile and perfectly placed (by Dujardin, in fact) beauty mark.

So the order for the day here seems to be charm. There isn’t a second of The Artist that isn’t charming in one way or another. But can a film win a Best Picture Oscar on charm alone?

The Artist is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Supporting Actress (Berenice Bejo), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Costume Design, Best Directing, Best Editing, Music (original score) & Best original Screenplay

Kevin Mattison is co-editor of The Idler, and a filmmaker and videographer. You can follow him on Twitter at @kmmattison.

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