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‘The Artist’: Is Silence Golden?

November 29, 2011

Hugo and My Week with Marilyn aren’t the only late-November releases mining cinematic history in search of Oscar gold: The buzz has built to near-deafening levels for The Artist, the black-and-white, virtually silent melodramedy about the early days of Hollywood. Cineastes have been oohing and aahing and ooh-la-la-ing over the film since it became the toast of the Cannes back in April. But will Academy voters—and modern multiplex-goers—feel the amour?

My guess is: Oui, oui! The Artist stars a pair of actors foreign to American audiences, Frenchman Jean Dujardin and Argentinian-born Bérénice Bejo, as George Valentin and Peppy Miller, a silent-screen heartthrob and an ardent fan-turned-“talkies” superstar. But the supporting cast is smartly peppered with familiar faces—if not voices—ranging from John Goodman (at his blustery best as a cigar-chomping studio exec) to Chaplin love interest Penelope Ann Miller (as Valentin’s romantically disenchanted wife). That should make the movie more palatable to the subtitle-phobic crowd.

As for the Oscars, Dujardin and Bejo are all-but-assured nominees for their performances, which deftly split the difference between silent-era mugging and contemporary subtlety. Also likely to make the Academy’s final cut are writer-director Michel Hazanavicius (who previously worked with Dujardin and Bego on his OSS 117 film comedies, which didn’t translate into big U.S. box office) as well as cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman and composer Ludovic Bource, who work overtime to evoke the story’s mood due to the lack of dialogue.

Of course, the film’s Oscar chances won’t be hurt by the fact that its campaign will be led by battle-tested veteran Harvey Weinstein. This is the guy who convinced the Academy that Shakespeare in Love was a better picture than Saving Private Ryan. But the movie’s relatively light tone shouldn’t diminish its considerable achievement. Hazanavicius reaches back into the medium’s past to create something that feels genuinely new. That’s the mark of a true Artist.

Side note: I saw The Artist with my friend and former Two Cranky Guys colleague Bret Watson, a silent-film aficionado. And while we were both irked by the couple behind us who wouldn’t take a hint from the film and shut up, Bret enjoyed it just as much as I did. Still, he couldn’t resist making a crack: “I liked it better when it was called Singin’ in the Rain.” Leave it to a Cranky Guy to rain on The Artist‘s parade.

Are you excited to see The Artist? Speak up, and leave a comment!

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