Watched Jul 16, 2012
A modern gem. Any true cinephile will enjoy this film. It draws upon so many elements from the classics film period of the 20s and 30s that it's hard to know where to even start with this review.
The opening credits begin exactly like an old film noire with a nondescript background and elegant lettering for the cast followed by lines of periods after each name that end with the character name each cast member plays. The whole film is like this as a big homage to that time period where some of the greatest elements of film were created.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a prominent actor who knows how to use his devilishly good looks to gain and keep his stardom in the time of silent films, where full orchestras swell with music throughout the film to accompany the dramatic action playing on screen as elegantly-dressed theatre-goers watch from the audience in theatres that look more like opera houses than what we now consider a movie theater. He meets a happy-go-lucky woman, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) at the premiere of one of his films who winds up breaking into show business a couple scenes later via showing up at an ad hoc audition for three extras that can dance for a new film being shot. Though Valentin is married, we see him shortly begin to fall for Miller when they begin filming together.
This is also a time where we start to see 'talkies' become all the new rage. As Miller grows in fame, she winds up becoming a huge 'talkie' star while Valentin has vowed to stay away from 'talkies' and produce, direct, write, and act in his own silent films with his little dog faithfully by his side (as a side note, this dog is now the first dog to have his paw prints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame). Of course we see him struggle through while Miller's career soars.
The straw that finally breaks the camel's back for Valentin is the stock market crash of 1929. He loses all his financial assets, his wife and winds up selling all of his valuables in an estate sale. We see the years pass with Miller a continued success and Valentin a humbled, retired actor doing everything he can to maintain. By the end, Miller has come to Valentin's rescue in various ways as she has always been a huge admirer with an even larger infatuation.
With the irony of the story in 'The Artist' being the fact that no one wants to see silent films anymore, yet the film is silent, it's a sheer piece of brilliance that earned every bit of its Oscar. The charm is substantial with the black and white coloring, the orchestra music throughout, dramatic scenes without voices replaced by intertitles of dialogue, and of course the time period reflected so well through the characters, sets and costumes.