Yes, it's broad in many ways, but then subtle and sophisticated at crucial moments, trusting subtext over expression or action. Hazanavicius and his cast communicate narrative and emotional depth with a visual efficiency that is truly rare. Yes, words can be powerful, but a sequence or single shot can be even more so. Not only is dialogue not missed here but, with formidable simplicity, The Artist shows just how laborious words often are and how good silent film can be.

The mixture of old and new cinematic sensibilities is impressively seamless.  Editing is simple but with a modern sense of pacing, and an approach that considers character as much as action and narrative. Cinematography may not be sweeping but it is artfully framed. Performances are big, even mugging at times, but then pulled back, internalized, and authenticated. Film references—from homages to Citizen Kane to a direct music cue from Vertigo, to name two—abound and enrich. The whole package is like film education through exhilaration.

What elevates this above being just a well-rendered stunt are the two charismatic and poignant performances by Dujardin and Bejo. With a twinkle in his eye and glint on the teeth, Dujarden sports the best attributes of old Hollywood’s biggest stars—a genetic concoction of Errol Flynn, Fred Astaire, and (most especially) Gene Kelly. Bejo is striking as well—vivacious, strong, yet vulnerable. Individually, she and Dujardin are classically stylized and effectively nuanced. Together, they absolutely beam. More notable actors like John Goodman and James Cromwell excel in small but crucial roles as well.

This is a glorious achievement, for both its artistry and complex hard-earned uplift. Bring a date. Hold hands—tightly at times, by emotional necessity. It isn’t merely one of the best films of the year but, broader still, one of the best silent films ever made and ranks with greats like Sunrise, City Lights, All Quiet on the Western Front and others. 

The Artist is meant to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated, not due to any state-of-the-art spectacle but because the theater becomes a time machine, transporting you back to a bygone age. Fitting, too, that it’s the type of movie that lifted spirits during The Great Depression and will now do the same in our Great Recession. It’s perfect, and there hasn’t been anything like it for nearly 100 years.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Alcoholic drinks are consumed casually, no drunkenness. 
  • Language/Profanity: A “middle finger” gesture.
  • Sexual Themes: Themes of marital troubles. An unconsummated attraction between a married man and another woman. Kissing.
  • Violence: A suicide attempt using a gun.