The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius


It is not the first time when cineastes of the talking picture era try to pay their tribute to cinema’s Golden Age. Others, beside Michel Hazanavicius, have paid their homage too: Jacques Tati, Aki Kaurismaki, Guy Maddin etc. There is hardly a decade in the history of the talkies without a “silent movie” in it.

There is, for example, Silent Movie (1976), directed by Mel Brooks, a landmark in film satire in which a soundtrack was added only as a compromise with the producers. One word is uttered only, and is everything but a compromise: “Non!” by the mime (sic!) Marcel Marceau.

If we are to be thorough with the history of silent movie in the talking pictures era, we can go far back to Charles Chaplin who directed silent movies long after the talkies won the war. He made his first talking picture, The Great Dictator, in 1940, more than a decade after the groundbreaking The Jazz Singer (1927). But Charles Chaplin was not really paying a tribute. Like the main character in The Artist, he belonged to the silent movie generation and he was against the new technique up until he found a good reason to speak up, and what a reason he had found!

Why is The Artist such a big hit? Honestly, I don’t find any reason for this success except the technique used. The trend now is The Vintage so it is probably natural for this production to capture such an attention. It’s a 100% homage to a certain technique, and that’s all. Should it be enough? Would a novel written in an old style, let’s say 18th century style, be a best-seller in this century? Honestly, I don’t know but certainly the style wouldn’t be enough.

The Artist presents a melodramatic story using honest tonalities in …I cannot do this!…

I cannot get past the surface. I am sorry, I can’t write anything worth reading regarding the plot, the characters, the actors’ performances or the director’s aesthetic choices. I can only say that is a silent movie in black and white taking a backbreaking bow to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It feeds on nostalgia and hardly on any other emotional or intellectual human vibration.

The only thing I found very interesting and moving was the scene where the main character has a nightmare. That scene woke me up from the numbness I was rocked into by the first half an hour of the movie. Nothing special happens after this moment, the story develops as flat as before. During this dream scene only I felt awake, alert and aware of it.

Technically I found The Artist close to perfection, but artistically is an average movie. The story is even less than average. Hazanavicius acts as the opposite of the title’s subject. He is The Technician concentrated on the way the engine functions and not enough on what it functions for. I really wish I could recommend you this one, but I can’t help thinking about all the other silent movies that really offer brain and soul food. Lodes of them were produced in the silent era, some of them after it. But if you are curious, let nothing stop you because, after all, this movie is unique in this decade. So far!

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