There’s a sign at the Razorback Malco movie theater that says something like “Dear Moviegoers, ‘The Artist’ is a silent movie. It is meant to be a silent movie. The filmmakers have made the choice to show the film in silent form.” Apparently they had to post a sign to warn people that the best reviewed film of the year is also a silent film. I wasn’t aware that there were people out there who would actually go to see the film without know it was a silent film. I guess the filmgoing audience has proven me wrong.
Given that I saw “The Artist” on a Friday night, and the theater was a quarter-full was disappointing. Given that those few people clapped, cheered, and left with huge smiles was encouraging.
“The Artist” has won its share of film awards since last summer’s Cannes Film Festival. It cleaned up at the Broadcast Film Critics Association and topped the Golden Globes. It netted 10 Academy Award nominations and has to be considered the favorite for “Best Picture.” There will be people who roll their eyes at that choice, but I won’t be one of them. Sure, it’s silent, sure it’s light, sure it’s a comedy, but it also makes you feel good, in a time of so much darkness at the movies.
The film follows Academy Award-nominee Jean DuJardin from the pinnacle of his career as a silent film god to a struggling man dealing with the world he knows sliding out from underneath him. DuJardin starts the film as the king of cinema. However, as sound arrives, he refuses to go along with the trend, and gets left in the dark. Fellow nominee Bérénice Bejo stars as a young upstart actress who falls hard for DuJardin and then does everything she can to save him, after his star starts to die. Both French actors give fantastic performances (DuJardin will likely be considered the Oscar frontrunner). I would also be silly to not mention the third lead in the film, Uggie the dog, who delivers one of the great supporting performances of the year. Seriously!
“The Artist” is a true love letter to silent film. It’s also a beautifully simple story that may not stand up over time. It’s a lovely film that showcases brilliant performances in a tender story about what it means to lose everything you have, and then deal with the prospects of getting it back. But it’s also a flawed film with some points in which the script seems to stall.
Although it does take a few minutes to truly embrace the filmmaker’s vision, it’s still one of the year’s best and a great escape for the few people daring enough to embrace the different.
Final Grade: A-
Wayne Bell is a freelance contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Master’s Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.