News / USA

Silent Movie 'The Artist' Speaks of Romance

Black-and-white homage to silent films of 1920's is generating Oscar buzz

Penelope Poulou

Hollywood's finest offerings often appear during the holiday season. This year, one of them is Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist," a black-and-white homage to the silent films of the 1920s.

"The Artist," a silent film itself, is a romantic story that reflects the sensibilities of that era. It has garnered praise from critics and audiences and is considered a frontrunner for an Oscar.

George Valentin, a 1920s Hollywood star, is riding high in silent films. He and his sidekick, a little dog, have charmed America.

His fans cluster around to get a glimpse of him - among them, Peppy Miller, a young extra, who rubs shoulders with him at a public event.

The publicity gets Peppy a big break - a job as a dancer in one of Valentin's films. But it's the talkies that make Peppy famous. Unfortunately, the new technology brings George Valentin, who discovered her, a reversal of fortune. Unable to find his own voice, Valentin fades into the background. His fans abandon him and so does his wife.

French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius says "The Artist" is a love story and moral tale about fame and its pitfalls. But, most importantly, it's a story that reflects the legendary Hollywood of the 1920s and 30s.

"I really tried to find the American spirit of the story because the story takes place here in Hollywood," he says, "and I really wanted to respect the way to shoot it but also the way to think it. How the characters are, what they can do. There is no nudity, there is no violence."  
The filmmaker creates an uplifting tale about love, loyalty and perseverance. George Valentin's story, as portrayed by French actor Jean Dujardin, is intertwined with the heroine’s, Peppy Miller, played by Berenice Bejo.

Miller’s star-power rises as Valentin’s fades. Dujardin offers a nuanced performance as a self-centered but fundamentally honorable Valentin, whose pride prevents him from accepting help. Dujardin's expressive interpretation of the silent film star is as enchanting during Valentin's rise as it is heart-breaking during his fall.

Dujardin says old Hollywood actors inspired his performance. "Douglas Fairbanks. I watched a lot of Douglas Fairbanks movies. Gene Kelly for his smile, his energy, Vittorio Gassman for his physicality, Clarke Gable for his mustache."

Actress Berenice Bejo, the real-life wife of director Michel Hazanavicius, shines as the effervescent, charming Peppy Miller. The starlet is in love with Valentin and it pains her to see him falter. She is determined to get him back on his feet, and eventually, saves his life.

During the shooting in Los Angeles, Bejo transformed herself into a 1930s Hollywood star.

"It gave an authenticity to be where the movie takes place," Bejo says. "Driving down the Hollywood hills and going to the studios, passing the gate as Peppy is doing in the movie, couldn't be more perfect than that."  

"The Artist" received six Golden Globe nominations and is expected to be nominated for an Oscar. Ironically, the film did not initially receive support from producers and investors, who, according to Hazanavicius, felt skittish about investing in a silent film in the 21st century.

The film moves effortlessly. Dujardin’s grace and infectious smile speak a thousand words without a sound. “The Artist” revives the iconic silent film as an intricate and eloquent form of dramatic art. Who needs dialogue and sultry scenes when all is said in a glance?

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