The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is a film about films, about the people in them, the people making them, and the people who watch them. It is a film about the ever-changing and developing world of cinema, a subject that resonates even now. In our era, we grapple with CGI and 3D; in the era of The Artist, one confronts the dawn of “talkies.” The Artist reminds us that art, as well as life, is always in flux.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the man who confronts this reality the most. A prodigious silent film star, he refuses to believe that talking pictures will be anything more than a novelty. As one might guess, his instincts are proven wrong. Talkies become an instant phenomenon. What’s more, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo)—the woman whose career he inadvertently launches—becomes a huge success. She is pretty, young, and accessible to a whole new generation of viewers. With stars like her on the rise, stars like George are bound to fall.
The latter part of the film follows George on his journey into obscurity. His marriage fails, he moves into an apartment, he fires his butler (James Cromwell), and he sells most of his worldly possessions. After awhile, it seems his dog (who completely steals the show) is all he can count on. Little does he know that a certain ingénue is also invested in his well being.
Just as his desperation and discontent hit a peak, Peppy comes to George’s aide. Regardless of her fame and public adoration, her respect and genuine care of the man has not faded. She empathizes with his struggles and eventually assures him that life is worth living, work is worth doing, as long as one is willing to accept change.
As it turns out, change is exactly what the today’s audience of The Artist encounters as well. The film, in almost every way, differs from what we have become accustomed to as viewers in 2012. The Artist is shot entirely in black and white. It relies heavily on score and nonverbal performance. In these ways, it is markedly self-referential. I found The Artist’s ability to evoke nostalgia for a bygone era in modern times immensely refreshing. It took my appreciation for the understated and turned it into an appreciated for the unstated. I found myself hanging on every facial expression and every musical shift, more than I have in a very long time (if not ever). I walked out of the theater with a renewed appreciation for cinema. Only something truly artful can do that.