There is a subtle subtext in the movie, The Artist, which powerfully grabs your imagination in ways that define the essence of storytelling and the manner in which movies can reach into the emotional truth of the human condition.
Something stunningly clever is at work in the minds of the French filmmakers who have created this exquisite original that not only grabs your total attention but also encompasses the many reasons why movies have had such an enormous impact on our lives.
On its glossy surface, it is the story of a silent film star of enormous popularity and charm who, after reaching the heights of fame, becomes shipwrecked on the shoals of the new technology of talking pictures, which he refuses to acknowledge. At the pinnacle of his fame and by sheer coincidence, he interacts with an ambitious young woman fan who burns to be a star of the first magnitude.
There are, of course, echoes of other movies, of which A Star is Born and Sunset Boulevard are the exemplars. A star falls, a star rises. The once famous star goes into deep decline while the younger ingénue rises to the top. In fact, if you take the time to analyze this movie, you will note that nearly every emotional cliché and melodramatic artifice you have ever seen in the movies, and in life, is cast your way.
There is decline and fall, greed and stupidity, unrequited and fulfilled love, loyalty and disloyalty, great joy, deep depression and sadness, victory and defeat, the miraculous bonding between dog and master, the hollowness and transiency of fame and fortune, and the always reliable, just-in-the-nick-of-time redemption. The old standby of illustrating decline by excessive drinking and showing the pistol as a potential suicide or murder weapon is blatantly illustrated.
Every hot button of manipulation used in movie storytelling from the very beginnings of the film industry is employed. Indeed, this 100 minute movie is the existential history of the movies and why it has survived and prospered not only as trivial entertainment but as a powerful life changing medium.
The story unfolds as a black and white silent movie with dialogue as subtitles, which illustrate how only the most meaningful dialogue is chosen, eliminating all the sounds and cacophony of the bloated communication, noise, and nonsense with which we are assaulted with in today's film storytelling. Everything is pared down to its essentials. And the old adage "less is more" is exquisitely affirmed.
In every category, the movie makers were not only authentic but inspired. The director, Michel Hazanavicius, has assembled a remarkable collection of talent. Jean Dujardin as the male lead is impeccable in his brilliant rendition of the silent star. His charm is infectious right down to his incredibly winning smile, albeit with slightly disarranged eyeteeth, an imperfection that humanizes and enhances the truth of his character. Bérénice Bejo as the female up and coming actress is every bit the potential star with incredibly beautiful legs and figure and a style that can fill a large screen with awesome female fidelity.
One of the exceptional actors in this ensemble is a Jack Russell who plays Uggi with great verve and intelligence showing amazingly human traits that make Lassie look like a bit player.
But it is the research and craftsmanship of the set designers and the skillful photography of Guillaume Schiffman that recreate the sense of historical authenticity and provides the environment for the actors to operate within the director's imaginative vision. Bear in mind that most of those associated with this venture are French and the director is of Lithuanian ancestry, which makes their perspective that of outside observers, which speaks volumes for universal insight and the movie medium as a global language.
Resurrecting the details of the late nineteen twenties and early thirties Hollywood is a masterpiece of set and costume design that should make the Brits envious. One must pay more than casual attention to the architecture of the homes, the furnishings, the appliances, the plates and glassware, the decorative touches, the knick knacks and wall coverings, the period cars, the manner of the crowds, the hair and makeup styles and most important of all, the wonderfully tailored costumes and the way they have been fitted to the bodies of the actors and extras.
This was a recreated time when men and women wore hats and beautiful clothes and took pride in their appearance, when the rules of dress and conduct emphasized self-regard and courtesy and when glamour and allure was integral to the possibility of high aspirations.
Of course, the real world of hard times, inequality, poverty and despair for many people was just outside of the dark auditorium in those days but, for a few cents, people were allowed into the dream factory for a brief time to nourish their hopes and immerse themselves in romantic reveries.
Obviously, I am in thrall to the moviemakers of The Artist for refreshing my optimism in these dark days of cynicism and despair and providing some hope for getting in touch again with civility, joy and spiritual buoyancy.
If this movie doesn't deserve Academy Awards for everyone involved, I'll eat my father's fedora (figuratively, of course).
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include 'The War of the Roses,'Random Hearts' and the PBS trilogy 'The Sunset Gang'. He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's website at www.warrenadler.com.
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