Silence is golden and in the case of Michel Hazanavicius’s gorgeous black and white silent film, the gold will be a clutch of Oscars, probably including the coveted statuette for Best Picture.
The Artist charts the rise and fall of a dashing actor against a backdrop of tumultuous change in a bygone era of Hollywood.
Stripped bare of expository dialogue, expensive set pieces and digital trickery, Hazanavicius’s love letter to the moving image is tender, romantic and incredibly funny, reminding us that the beating heart of any film is human emotion.
Here, a single lingering glance, underscored by composer Ludovic Bource’s grand orchestration, speaks louder and clearer than reams of impassioned and heartfelt confession.
During the early part of the 20th century, Lillian Gish and Greta Garbo became the queens of the silver screen in the golden age of silent movies.
Then in 1927, The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson changed movie-making forever by successfully combining images and sound.
Within a decade, the death knell was sounded forever on silents.
Writer-director Hazanavicius steps back in time to that pivotal year, when handsome and romantically unattached screen idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is setting hearts aflutter.
His films are greeted with rapturous applause and sell-out crowds.
Female fans clamour for his autograph.
On the set of his latest production, George meets aspiring starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) and he is smitten.
“If you want to be an actress, you need to have something the others haven’t got,” he tells Peppy, adding the beauty spot to her face that becomes her trademark.
With the advent of sound, George’s fortunes wane and Peppy’s star ascends into the stratosphere to the delight of cigar-smoking studio boss Zimmer (John Goodman).
Fame is fickle and George and his trusty manservant Clifton (James Cromwell) fall on painfully hard times, with no obvious end to their misery.
The Artist replicates film-making techniques of the past to create a warm, witty and swoonsome romance that will charm and beguile modern audiences.
Dujardin is a debonair and charismatic leading man and there is simmering screen chemistry with the luminous Bejo.
George’s performing dog scene-steals with tail-wagging gusto, proving that man’s best friend is also his fiercest competition for the limelight.
Hazanavicius plants his tongue firmly in cheek for Goodman’s scenes, whose potty-mouthed rages as a Hollywood head honcho are reduced to censored snippets of dialogue on title cards.
The film-maker uses sound sparingly in a nightmare sequence and he demonstrates directorial brio with a climactic scene involving a gunshot.
A rousing, toe-tapping finale, which nods and winks playfully to feel-good cinema of the 1930s, ensures we are grinning with glee when the end credits roll.
By Damon Smith
:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 9/10
Released: December 30 (London Vue West End); January 6 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas); January 13 (nationwide), 100 mins