By the time I publish this review, the film world may already be raving about this path-breaking movie. Well, it's not really path-breaking in the strictest sense of the expression. Because this movie is a lot like what movies used to be at the very beginning, when it didn’t matter what you wore, or what you sounded like. And in an era when CGI is passé, and plastic surgery is what the doctors at Hollywood order, this back-to-the basics approach to film making is most refreshing.
So what is it that really works for this silent black & white movie, with mostly unknowns in the credits? For one, it relies on the abilities of the actors. Never before did the age-old cliché of “action speaking louder than words” hold true. And the Screenplay, for pretty much the same reason.
The movie takes us back to 1927, when Actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) enjoys a Midas touch with his movies, and charms audiences with his silence. With a stature that would make Douglas Fairbanks look like a metrosexual, Valentin looks like he has come to grips with stardom, and clearly knows what the masses want. However, it in this very department that he proves to be a little myopic.
At the peak of his career, he brushes off the latest developments in sound recording, and continues to live his charmed life with gay abandon. As a ‘silent’ expert, it seemed like sound judgement at that moment. But that’s a decision that would let his fortunes dry up.
Typically as silent films go, the protagonist becomes a pale shadow of his old self when he encounters testing times. And as with 89.64% of movies, when the going is bad, it’s really bad. The film has a few central themes running through it – how change is inevitable, how our male egos come in the way of letting ourselves have a go with the women we adore, and how stubbornness masquerading as strength totally kills one’s drive for success. The Artist continues this simple plot without any undertones of irony or lessons on morality. It is a fair depiction of a time when what you saw was essentially what you got at the movies.
But while the plot is simple, it still manages to keep you hooked, and that’s the reason why I believe director Michel Hazanavicius and his team deserves their share of accolades. With the smartest use of a forgotten medium, it is perhaps a reminder to everyone in the industry today of how we stand at that very precipice of changing times, much like protagonist of the film. Emerging technologies will always continue to change the way movies are made, and in the bigger picture, change life itself. But would we still continue embracing the familiar and render ourselves obsolete? Some questions are perhaps best left in the rhetoric.
The Artist may not win as many Oscars as I think it deserves. It would be a pity if it loses out to some of the more popular names in its categories. Either way, I hope the producers of The Artist don’t express their triumph or failure as vocally as moviemakers are known to. Because, as they’ve shown it with their silent film, they say best when they say nothing at all.