'The Artist': Critics speak up to praise silent film
In a time when CGI spectacle and dizzying 3-D effects dominate the box office, an unlikely new silent black-and-white movie — by a French filmmaker, no less — is captivating critics. "The Artist," written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is set in 1920s and '30s Hollywood and tells the story of a dashing silent-film star who meets-cute with an up-and-coming actress while the movie business is shifting its focus to talkies. Movie critics are calling "The Artist," which opens in limited release Friday, a love letter to classic Hollywood, and a fine film to boot.
The Times' Kenneth Turan says "The Artist" "manages the impossible: It strikes an exact balance between the traditions of the past and the demands of the present, managing to be true to the look and spirit of bygone times while creating the most modern kind of witty and entertaining fun." Crucial to the film's success, Turan writes, are stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, "bursting off the screen like irrepressible Roman candles."
For USA Today critic Claudia Puig, the film is a welcome relief from typical movie mayhem. She writes: "In a time when movies often are sonic assaults, and meaning can be lost amid the clatter of explosions, gunshots and screeching cars, 'The Artist' … has an utterly beguiling purity." Puig deems Hazanavicius "a supremely gifted filmmaker" and also commends the "gorgeously photographed" images (by cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman) and the "soaring score" (by Ludovic Bource). Puig also agrees that Dujardin and Bejo are "thoroughly engaging."
In the New York Times, A.O. Scott calls "The Artist" a "dazzling cinematic objet d'art." Scott notes moments in which the film echoes such classic movies as "Vertigo," "Citizen Kane" and "A Star Is Born," making it "a feast for antiquarian film geeks." Although the film "revels in gimmickry and occasionally oversells its charm," Scott says, it knows how to please an audience. And if it isn't quite a great movie, "it is an irresistible reminder of nearly everything that makes the movies great. "
Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek might quibble on that last point, as she finds "The Artist" to be both great and breezy. It is, she writes, "a picture whose very boldness lies in its perceived lightness." Zacharek praises Hazanavicius' subtle hand and the way the director "dots the movie with clever touches that are never overworked or arch." Schiffman's "satiny moonlight glow" and Bource's "champagne-bubble score" also score points.
Andrew O'Hehir of Salon says the film is "an outrageous and nearly impossible amount of fun," the kind of movie people drag their friends to go see. O'Hehir concedes that "'The Artist' is perhaps less deliriously enjoyable after it switches from its early romantic-comedy mode to the ensuing Theodore Dreiser-style melodrama of George’s fall into alcoholism, bankruptcy and disaster." But it also "bursts with affection" for old-school Hollywood, and it "finishes with a terrific bang."
For Hazanavicius and his team, it would appear silence is indeed golden — perhaps fittingly so during award season.
— Oliver Gettell
Photo: Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in "The Artist." Credit: Peter Iovino / The Weinstein Co.