Friday, June 12, 2015

The Artist (Best Picture 2011)

The Artist is probably the most willfully contrived, artificial film I have ever seen. Unlike other silent films that I have seen such as The Phantom of the Opera, The Unholy Three, and Wings (the very first Best Picture), The Artist was filmed at a time when sound was an option. So the producers chose not to use sound (or color, for that matter). That begs the question....why? I guess it's like making a movie into a musical or into a comedy or a period can make the story in any way you want to. But in this case it's like writing a poem using no capitalization or playing a pop song without the lyrics. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but it's not really what I want to see.

In fact, when my wife and I sat down to watch this film a few years ago, we actually turned it off after the first few minutes. The "vaudeville" style of acting (the pantomime with excessive actions and reactions) is annoying, and the attention that you must give the story in order to follow what is going on is exhausting. This time I managed to watch the whole film, but it was not easy, and it was not fun.

The Artist is about silent-film actor George and his co-star, his dog. Do we ever learn what his dog's name is? I don't think so. In 1927 he is at the premiere of his newest film. Afterwards he meets a girl, Peppy, from the audience. The next day she is an extra in his newest movie. They are falling in love.
In 1929 talkies arrive, but George refuses to go along. He dumps all of his money into his newest film, which fails just as the Great Depression begins. Peppy, however, is now a big star. His wife leaves him, and he has to move to a small apartment. By 1931 her career is a roaring success, and he has to sell all of his personal belongings just to survive. In 1932 he sees her newest film and likes it, but is going crazy. In a fit, he burns all of his films except one....his one scene with Peppy. She reads about his fire and brings him to her mansion to nurse him back to health. When he realizes that she bought up all of his things, he rushes out. He is about to commit suicide when she stops him. They dance, and she decides to insist that they do a musical film together.

There, that's your plot, without any bells or whistles.

I watch movies in order to see real life reflected back at me, or to see fantasy worlds presented to me. So a movie about a silent film actor who knows he's a silent film actor....? There is a scene where he has a nightmare about sound intruding into his silent (film) life, but because the whole story is silent, it is just weird. There is another scene near the end where a policeman talks to George, and we have no idea what he is saying. George doesn't either....? I don't understand the point of this scene at all; is George losing his hearing, immersed as he is in the world of silence? I can't tell, and by this point I didn't care. Also in the highly dramatic scenes, between him and his wife or between him and Peppy, I really could not imagine what they were saying to each other, which bothered me. Were they unhappy because they never talked...because they were living in a silent film? Something like that, I think....? A bit pompous if you ask me. Absolutely artificial.

That being said, the two leads do a great job. Although the story bored me, Jean Dujardin as George always kept my attention. He reminded me of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, in a good way. He won Best Actor for this role, the first French man to ever win. Likewise, Berenice Bejo as Peppy was always fun to watch. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but lost to Octavia Spencer in The Help. Their chemistry together was obvious, from their accidental meeting early in the film to the last scene, their Astaire-Rogers like dance number. But their chemistry wasn't enough for me to care about the overall story. My biggest complaint....why didn't Peppy insist on co-starring with George years before she finally did?

The Artist was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. If you are a fan of older movies, silent or black-and-white, you will probably enjoy this. If you like your films more realistic, you will not. Skip this.

The Artist
*Academy Award Best Picture of 2011*
Produced by Thomas Langmann
Written & Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

I couldn't even sit through the trailer. 

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse
With so many more Best Picture nominees to see....I actually only saw one of them! After reading the novel, my wife and I saw The Help. The others....nope. The Descendants is a George Clooney drama about a family in Hawaii.  Hugo is Martin Scorcese's love letter to classic cinema. Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen's newest. Moneyball is the Brad Pitt-Jonah Hill baseball film. War Horse according to my sister is the awful Steven Spielberg film about World War One. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close features Max Von Sydow in a drama about 9/11. And The Tree of Life I have never even heard of.

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