The Artist breaks all the rules.
For one, it’s a silent movie. Big no-no. There isn’t much dialogue to read. You just get the basics. A sentence here, a paragraph there. White letters pasted on a black screen. Much of what happens is conveyed from facial expressions, the posture of the actors, or by action.
Jean Dujardin is George Valentin. He’s the world’s biggest silent film star at the dawn of the age of sound. When sound becomes all the rage in 1927, George is unwilling to change. It’s a mistake that quickly makes George the world’s newest has-been.
George’s story covers a few years and is riches to rags back to riches. There is the fall from stardom, an unhappy marriage, a happy coincidence that transforms a young woman with girl-next-door good looks into a big star.
And, for humor, a cute and clever dog.
Helping the story along is music. It fits the flavor of the era and is old-time 1920s retro. While not exactly tuneless, like the films of yesteryear, the music is designed to punctuate the emotional make-up of an actor or actors in a particular scene. Laughter or love. Anger and dismay, and so on.
Rule break No. 2. The Artist is in black and white. Gasp! How could they? Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius shot the movie in a format that removes a frame here and there to give it an authentic, strobing, silent film look.
And the two ways in which he introduces sound are pure genius.
The charismatic Dujardin is electric. He has one line. Yet with the best smile this side of Jack Nicholson, Dujardin says more with facial expressions and body language than most actors can do with multiple pages of dialogue. His co-star, Berenice Bejo, is lovely. Love, kindness and loyalty not only anchor but also ooze from her character.
Theirs is a unique love story. She lives in a world of sound. His is filled with silence. With no words, just a lingering look here, a longer look there, a sad smile, a happy smile, and close-ups of the eyes and face, the passion between Dujardin and Bejo has more sizzle than anything you’ll find in a conventional movie where couples bond in carefully choreographed love scenes set to overproduced rock ballads.
And Hazanavicius makes you wait. And wait some more. And anticipate. It makes the love story even more delectable.
Hazanavicius is a genius, and his tribute to a genre long lost is pure genius. The accolades you are hearing about The Artist are deserved. Please, forget the Netflix cue or a future planned trip to a Redbox, or one of the few video stores left. The Artist deserves to be seen on a big screen.
Sorry for the lecture. From here I’ll remain silent.
Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It opens Friday, Jan. 20 Regal’s Columbia Center 8.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.