Saturday, October 8, 2011
The Artist (2011): a silent film that will echo in time
In an era of profuse technological progress, with remarking parallels in history, the film industry is boxing its frames into our homes with distinctive quality, sharpness and novelty extras (blu-ray), while at the same time the community cibernetically assaults their delivery trucks and unboxes them into our homes for distinctive camaraderie and share. Things are changing in the movie business and have been for a few years now, as home video screening sessions have risen as some of the highest accommodation and entertainment patterns. Things are changing too when the first culmination point hits The Artist's characters and although the world would never go back to silent films, we still have one steady buried foot on the somewhat sandy shore of theatrical exhibition. Let you get the other foot and make that step back this time, drive yourself to a cinema and don't waste this experience on a tiny-inch screen.
Hazanavicious' film, which I so far consider the strongest possible 2012 Oscar contender (three actors, script, directing, cinematography, editing, music), is an homage to the first years of this baby art-form stamped as the seventh. It is genuine and marvelously dignifying, without being flamboyant, and brings a pedagogical expectation of arousing in a mass audience the taste for the history of film. Maybe that's one of the reasons why the director worked a style I'd say takes so much of the classics (beginning credits, the smooth backlighted editing in the conversations, the wonderful montage sequences) as of their followers (the perfect Dutch shots or that extraordinary 180º swivel shot to the little whiskey puddle).
Being technically exquisite (the black and white, how the editing works the reactions or how the camera swifts focus with an impressive smoothness), this is also a very compelling story. As a global object, it is the typical melodrama of the time, told in a classic, simple, clear, three-act way (we have the cute dog character, a family movie element). However, the stones that lift this piece are the details on the set and characters (take the treatment of the Peppy's "birthmark"), the intelligent and delightful although few inter titles (the woman that regrets that the dog doesn't speak), the good rhythm and the great scenes (Peppy and Valentino meet each other's legs; P and V's coat; P and V dancing scene takes; V's dream sequence; the fire; and so many others). I'm missing the amazing cast, which wouldn't have done without the very well written characters. Jean Dujardin, brilliant, interprets a falling silent movie star, who I believe is loosely inspired on the figure of Douglas Fairbanks (the physical similarities; Valentino played Zorro and when Zimmer calls him to give the bad news he seems to be playing a musketeer, being that Fairbanks both starred as Zorro and D'Artagnan). Bérénice Bejo, also extraordinary, plays a rising sound film star and they're backed up by the great John Goodman as a film producer as well as by a very nice cameo by Malcom McDowell.
Last night was a solemn moment of connection with the past, with a Golden Age, as Woody Allen would've noticed, a feeling maybe enhanced by the enormous, carved, red benched room and by the introduction by a colored restored version of George Méliés' A Trip to the Moon. Reminder of other great films, such as Billy Wilder's Sunset Blv. The silence, the mimics, the grimaces and mugging, will echo as the bells of an old church would still peal after one hundread years of muteness. And let us hope one day we won't watch a film about the transition from huge screens to TV screens or from 2D to 3D. But then again, am I sounding as those early withholders ?