“The Artist” is wordlessly charming

Finally, long after the awards season has ended, I got my chance to see The Artist. I wanted so badly to understand and experience for myself all the raves that were given to this movie – its performers, director, music. Tonight, my friend and I went to the Redbox looking for a movie to pass the time, and lo and behold, The Artist was first on the new releases. And not taken! So we jumped on that.

The story introduces us to silent film star George Valentin (the wonderful Jean Jujardin) in 1929, when he appears to be at the peak of his fame. We also meet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, who I cannot gush about enough) as she literally runs into Valentin and charms him and the audience in one fell swoop. Peppy is an actress looking to get recognized, and the movie does a great job of showing the parallel rise of Peppy with George’s fall. The movies turn towards “talkies,” stopping silent film production. George refuses to believe in this form of film and leaves his production company as they also begin filming talkies. A couple years later, the stock market crashes, taking George’s money and the remainder of his hopes to make his own films. George’s spiral coupled with Peppy’s rise is played to perfection by the actors.

Some of my favorite scenes came early on in the movie. I loved how fully the movie and director Michel Hazanavicius embraced the silent film. Right at the start, the film’s credits tell you this will not be like most other current movies. Entirely in black and white, with a fantastic musical score, the credits open into one of George’s films being shown in a theater. Because this movie is silent, the music takes more of a center role, and boy is it wonderful. Some of the early tunes with George, especially, are so jaunty and perfectly nuanced to his character. The early scenes between George and Peppy are also sweetly charming.

I have to take a moment to gush about Berenice Bejo. She has such a beautiful, expressive face. She literally lights up the screen with her smile. Every time she was on screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Which is impressive because Jean Jujardin is also a great actor and usually is the focus. But she just steals scenes without making a sound. My favorite scene is of her in George’s dressing room. She sees his suit jacket on its rack and slips one arm inside, pretending to hug him. It’s touching, sweet, and sad all at once as you see the longing on her face despite the reality of him being married. Another favorite scene of mine was later in the film, when she has become famous. She arrives to a dinner interview looking strikingly like Catherine Zeta-Jones from Chicago (think of the courtroom scene where she saucily strides in, if you’re familiar with the movie). She practically dances in and down the stairs in a similar hat and fur coat, swaying through the room with confidence and glamour. She’s so striking. Told you I couldn’t gush enough about her.

“The Artist” was very different from any movie this year, and I can see why it stood out during awards season. The movie’s choice to fully embrace the silent film was brave and a lot of fun for the audience, but the performances by the lead actors made it an absolute delight to watch.