DVD Release Date: June 26, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: November 23, 2011 (limited); December 23, 2011 (wider)
Rating: PG-13 (for a disturbing image and a crude gesture)
Genre: Drama/Silent Film
Run Time: 100 min.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell

Imagine if someone made a movie the way they used to make movies way back when, but knowing what we know now. Well, someone has.

The Artist—a full-length black-and-white silent film (yes, silent)—is the best of two eras a century removed. It’s a quixotic elegy to the dawn of moviemaking told in the language of classic cinema but with contemporary erudition, and the result is timeless. As movies go it’s a not-so-little miracle, a very welcome gift, and must be seen in a theater. It’s a movie to fall in love with.

Remember the bold guarantees declared in previews and trailers from those early days? “You’ll laugh!  You’ll cry!  You’ll thrill!  You’ll swoon!” Well, with The Artist, you will laugh. You will cry. You will thrill, swoon, cheer, and completely fall under its spell.

Shot on Hollywood soundstages, French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius takes out sound, color, special effects, and even removes widescreen dimensions. In their place, he pours heart and soul into a monochromatic square-framed music-only silent picture that not only defies convention but modernity itself.

Enhancing this cinematic love affair even more is the smart choice to make it a movie about the movies. Film history buffs will be most strongly (though not exclusively) drawn to the material, so why not make it about film history at its core, in shamelessly romanticized fashion? That’s exactly what Hazanavicius does, demonstrating why movies are such a vital part of our human and cultural fabric.

It’s 1927, and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a marquee star of the Silent Era, true Hollywood royalty. But he’s the star of an industry on the verge of collapse, along with the impending stock market crash and, sadly, Valentin’s own personal life. 

While the prospects of the industry reinventing itself are good (even assured), the same hopes cannot be said of Valentin’s marriage, one in which deterioration has been masked by fame and success. When forced to find his voice both professionally and personally, Valentin must confront the hard truth that he hasn’t developed one for either.

As Valentin declines with the Silent Era, young ingénue Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) ascends with the talkies. Yet despite the soul attraction that was sparked between the two while filming Valentin’s last big picture (in a charming sequence of takes from a dance scene), he and Miller are on different trajectories, star-crossed, two hearts that yearn for port as they pass in the professional night. It is a journey filled with the gamut of emotions: joy, happiness, struggle, confusion, fear, missed opportunities and regret, all told with deeply-felt pathos.

From the opening frame, The Artist captures the pre-sound era in every aesthetic detail: art deco credit titles, bold swelling orchestral bombast (that also accents action like sound effects), and a larger-than-life acting technique that embodies humor and humanity. Throughout there are nice bits of optical invention, too, not just comedic but also romantic and dramatic. (An early moment where Peppy brings an empty tux to life isn’t just Chaplinesque, it’s quietly breathtaking).