DVD+Digital: The Artist

July 5, 2012

ImageIt all seems a little too cute, doesn’t it? THE ARTIST is a black-and-white silent film, shot in the archaic 4:3 aspect ratio, about the Old Hollywood silent film era. And it’s French! And it won the Best Picture Oscar!

I was skeptical, too—this seemed like the sort of artsy, delightfully impertinent gesture the Academy likes to make every few years. But I was wrong. The Artist is a pure delight from beginning to end; a genuinely inspired piece of popular entertainment with bonus resonance for movie history geeks.

Debuting this week on DVD, Blu-ray and digital, The Artist stars French actor Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, an aging movie star navigating the end of the silent film era. The talkies are coming, bringing with them a new breed of movie star like the young and radiant Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).

The film follows George and Peppy as their relationship shifts from mentor and rookie to something else entirely. The story is told without dialogue, and with a minimum of intertitles. As such it relies on music, staging and strong physical performances from Dujardin and Bejo and the supporting cast (including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Uggie the dog.)

The real star here, though, is writer and director Michel Hazanavicius, who puts it all together and makes it sing. The Artist is first and foremost a love letter to the history of cinema, reverently evoking the silent film era in both content and form. But it’s also a elegantly rounded story, a comic melodrama that earns its laughter and thrills. The movie never feels gimmicky.

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