out of Five
Running time: 100
Brilliantly directed and superbly written, this is an utterly delightful, wonderfully inventive and frequently hilarious silent comedy that stands as a joyous, knowing tribute to classic silent cinema and features a trio of terrific performances from Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and Uggy the dog.
What's it all about?
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius (who made the OSS-117 films with Dujardin), The Artist is a silent film pastiche set in 1920s Hollywood, where George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a huge star, along with his canine sidekick Jack (Uggy the dog). When he meets charming ingénue Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, who's also Mrs Hazanavicius), he instantly falls for her and is instrumental in getting her her first big break, but he stops short of acting on their mutual attraction because of his marriage to Doris (Penelope Ann Miller).
With the arrival of sound, George's career takes a nose-dive as he's dropped from the studio but he dismisses the talkies as a fad and ploughs all his money into a self-directed jungle adventure, only for the film to flop and for George to be wiped out financially by the Wall St Crash. Meanwhile, Peppy's career goes from strength to strength and soon she's the studio's new 'It' girl, but are their
paths destined to cross again?
Jean Dujardin is wonderful as Valentin, displaying the perfect combination of old-style movie star looks (he strongly resembles Gene Kelly), brilliant comic timing and impressive physicality; needless to say, his dancing scenes are a delight, though it's a shame there isn't a little more swashbuckling. Similarly, Bejo is utterly adorable as Peppy, generating strong chemistry with Dujardin and displaying a knockout smile that's genuinely infectious, while there's strong support from John Goodman (as Valentin's producer) and James Cromwell as his devoted driver.
However, the film is almost completely stolen by Uggy the dog, who deservedly won the Canine D'Or in Cannes and who's nothing short of astonishing: the routine where Dujardin and Uggy mimic each others' actions at the dinner table to cheer up Doris is just one of several highlights.
Hazanavicius directs with an obvious affection for his material (the production design is impeccable) and the fabulous script is packed full of brilliant sight gags, fan-pleasing references to classic films (including an audacious soundtrack lift from Hitchcock's Vertigo) and wonderful little details designed to be discovered on a second viewing, such as George seeing his first talkie and only laughing at the sight gags. In addition, there are some brilliantly inspired surprises that it would be unfair to spoil here, while the final scene will send you out of the cinema grinning from ear to ear.
Brilliantly directed and wonderfully acted, The Artist is a complete and utter joy from beginning to end. It's also one of the best films of the year. Unmissable.