Silence is golden in Michel Hazanavicius' quaint silent cinema homage The Artist. The story is a somewhat slight but archetypal one about the screen stars of Hollywood's silent era falling into obsolescence and obscurity at the hands of the talkies. The novelty of a (mostly) silent film in 2011 may seem a gimmick, but it's hard not to let yourself be charmed by it.
Hazanavicius throws in plenty of clever touches to keep his audience on its toes. Sly intertitles such as “We have to talk” and “I've made way for you” take on obvious double meaning when Valentin's medium begins to fade away. Craftily placed signs and marque headings can be spotted that reflect the accompanying character in the shot, and several not-so-subtle visual cues – Valentin staring at his own shadow, or sinking into a sandpit during a movie scene followed by “The End” – announce the demise of silent film.
The washed-up Valentin would probably find himself in the same camp of Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond, who famously exclaimed in Sunset Boulevard, “We didn't need words back then. We had faces.” They certainly do in this film. Jean Dujardin is a wonderful performer in both face and movement, as is love interest Berenice Bejo. They need to be in order to carry this film without tools of conventional dialogue. However, despite its absence of sound, the aesthetic of the movie actually aligns itself fairly closely with modern convention. The aspect ratio and black-and-whiteness notwithstanding, Guillaume Schiffman's photography and Anne-Sophie Bion's editing follow contemporary style. Just as well, as it definitely makes it an easier watch. Ludovic Bource's music gets points for both quality and quantity, running the gamut from tender melody to symphonic swells. Sure beats a honky tonk in the corner.
*** out of ****