I love the idea of using a unique format, device or method to help best tell the story of a movie. Some have been so successful that they have become a whole genre of their own. The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield hugely benefit from being shot with a hand-held camera in a “found footage” manner. Others are so unique that it only works once, like Christopher Nolan’s Memento. That movie is difficult to follow, it will work your brain but by presenting the story out of sequence, it offers the best way of experiencing the movie and when it all fits into place, the film is so much better for it.
The Artist doesn’t quite fit into that category because it’s actually reusing an out-dated method to tell its story. It’s a brave but very successful way of telling the story of a silent movie actor, by having the whole film in the format of a silent movie. It is bizarre to begin with and can be quite jarring to the senses when you realise there will be no dialogue but it’s also a great showcase for the acting talent on show.
It seems obvious but is worth mentioning that without dialogue, the story is told entirely through the actions and expressions of the actors used. This is where Jean Dujardin shines. He has the talent to dance, over-exaggerate or under-play depending on what the scene requires. He also bounces off the female lead, played by Berenice Bejo, fantastically. Some key scenes, for example their first meeting in Dujardin’s dressing room, is so full of small exchanges, intimate moments but played as bigger actions to get the point across. Its difficult but very skilled.
Of course, the music has a big part to play and as you would expect from a movie so reliant on a soundtrack, The Artist’s is brilliant. There are no flat moments or times when the story isn’t being expressed or clearly translated. Not that it is the most complex of stories but without the right music to accompany what is on-screen, the magic of the format is lost.
It’s that magic that is key to The Artist’s success. As bad as this may sound, using this format to tell the story of a silent movie stars faltering career, is a novelty. It showcases the movies of that time brilliantly and the magic of the out-dated format and what was lost when “talking pictures” were introduced, but beyond the first hour, the magic does begin to fade.
The performances don’t fade and the story is interesting, even though it lacks any dynamic force or surprises in direction, but the format becomes tired and I found myself easily drifting, particularly in scenes that seemed to last just slightly too long when helping push the story forward. The film is never boring but it does lose its initial sparkle when you get to your seventieth minute.
As a showcase for the lost format, The Artist is perfect. It demonstrates what cinema used to be and how different movie stars had to act to demonstrate their performances and put across their story. It did make me wonder if at least a quarter of this movie was shot in a more modern format, maybe slowly progressing to that point throughout, whether the movie would have been improved though.
Overall, I can see why The Artist received the praise it did and why it won so many prestigious awards. The acting is fantastic, the soundtrack perfect and the story is very clear and accessible. Unfortunately, using an out-dated format lost its novelty for me at least an hour into the movie and I can’t see there being a huge resurgence of newly shot, silent movies.
Rating – 2.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)