Review: Silence Allows “The Artist” to Say a Lot

Years ago French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius got it in his head he'd like to make a silent film. This, of course, is a stupid idea--it's now 2011, we've got 3D, IMAX, Dolby surround sound, 4D Aroma-Scope… we keep pushing forward to make film more lifelike—why take a giant step back? What's ironic about Hazanavicius' black-and-white silent film, "The Artist," is that it is simultaneously a loving homage to a bygone era, acknowledgment that film, like time, must continue moving forward, and a humorous, almost gently smug reminder that nothing ever really changes.

"The Artist" stars Jean Dujardin a George Valentin, a silent-film star who is the toast of the Hollywood. One day he literally bumps into a beautiful young ingénue, Peppy Miller (Hazanavicius' wife, Berenice Bejo). Rather than ships passing in the night, they're stars—hers on the rise, his making a steady descent - as the talkies begin to take over the entire industry. But Valentin is too proud to speak, a stubborn and vain stance that begins to ruin his personal as well as professional life.

Dujardin and Bejo are magic together, conveying more with their faces and body language than most actors can with a five-minute soliloquy. Dujardin, in particular, possesses an uncanny expressiveness, his rubber face telling a story in the blink of an eye. Bejo, apart from being a stunning beauty, stays with Dujardin every step of the way, be it with longing glances or a quick tap dance number. As they used to say of Ginger Rogers, vis-a-vis Fred Astaire, she does everything he does, but backwards and in heels.

In the absence of dialogue, composer Ludovic Bource's score must do even more work than usual, and he's up to the task, from his percussive dance numbers to his more melodramatic string arrangements.

With a story that's a cross between "All About Eve" and "Citizen Kane," Hazanavicius' "The Artist" is a joyous reminder of the ruthlessness of evolution and the redemptive power of love.

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