(PG-13, Avail. 6/26)
Six years ago, watching the brilliant French comedy "OSS 117," I discovered an actor who displayed more comic talent in his eyebrows than most actors do in their entire bodies. I had no idea what "OSS" writer-director Michel Hazanavicius had in mind for Jean Dujardin in the future, but once I heard what it was I knew it was going to be something special.
"The Artist" is a (mostly) silent, black and white film and it is the perfect showcase for its star. It's Hollywoodland, circa 1927, and superstar George Valentin (Dujardin) has another hit on his hands. It is clear from the reception to "A Russian Affair" that Valentin's star shines as brightly as Keaton's or Chaplin's and, what's more, he knows and loves it.
He also doesn't mind aggravating his leading lady (Missi Pyle), his producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman), or his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller). Still, he has great affection for his valet Clifton (James Cromwell) and his loyal canine co-star (Uggie the Dog).
After the premiere of "A Russian Affair," however, someone else enters the picture; hopeful young actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). There is an instant connection and slowly, Peppy's star begins to rise.
George is only too happy for her until Zimmer decides that silent films (and thus George) are the past. George considers talking on screen to be beneath him and feels that talkies will be a failed experiment, but a combination of being wrong and the stock market crash effectively end his career. He attempts to pick up the pieces on his own while Peppy becomes a bigger and bigger star, but she continues to love the man who gave her her start.
Hazanavicius reminds us that the loss of silent film as an art form was a sad one. His love and respect for it is in the details such as shooting it in the aspect ratio of the day-1.33:1-and his supreme confidence in his cast. Dujardin is beyond wonderful and proves to be a true artist himself. Had he been born in another era he could have been as popular and beloved as Valentin in the mid-'20s. Bejo is excellent as well. She pours herself into the role of Peppy and shows her talent knows no time period bounds.
One of the advantages of making a silent film is that French leads such as Dujardin and Bejo can easily share the screen with Goodman, Miller, and Cromwell, who provide fantastic support. I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't make special mention of Uggie, who may be the finest movie dog since Asta in the "Thin Man" series.
"The Artist" is a movie for true film lovers. It is made with love and a sense of joy that is incredibly rare. I believe as well that Hazanavicius hopes to encourage fans to give silent movies a try. He wants a new generation to discover Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, and so many others.
Given the Oscar success of "The Artist," Hazanavicius may get his wish. 10/10.