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Artist, The (Blu-ray Review)

28 Jun, 2012 By: John Latchem

Sony Pictures
Box Office $44.67 million
$30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray,
‘PG-13’ for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.
Stars Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell.

Director Michel Hazanavicius’ Oscar-winning homage to classic Hollywood serves as a perfect vehicle to introduce French superstar Jean Dujardin to mainstream American audiences. The actor already has achieved a certain cult following due to his “OSS 117” James Bond parodies, and in The Artist he stars as silent film actor George Valentin, who seems to be most famous for starring in a series of spy adventures that evoke the spirit of a silent-era James Bond.

Dujardin is great in the role because the silent format showcases his charm and charisma without the need for dialogue (or his heavy French accent), which serves a key story point in that Valentin refuses to admit that sound is transforming the basic artistry of filmmaking.

Valentin’s decline contrasts nicely with the rise of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), Valentin’s would-be romantic interest who becomes Hollywood’s “It” girl, thanks to the advent of the new technology.

But beyond depicting the plight of silent film stars in the age of the talkie, The Artist serves as a parable about change and staying relevant in a world of obsolescence.

The film is marked by great bits of physical comedy and performers who are clearly up to the challenge. For Dujardin and Bejo, it seems, half their performance is tied up in the effectiveness of their smiles.

Though The Artist mimics the style of silent movies, the use of modern techniques gives it a contemporary feel, so it never seems constrained by its sets or other limitations that defined early films.

The Blu-ray includes several featurettes about various aspects of making the film, and a 45-minute Q&A with the filmmakers and cast. But these serve mostly as exercises in back-slapping and self-praise (aside from some nutty economic philosophizing by James Cromwell) to convey a technique that otherwise isn’t too complicated, with anecdotes revolving around the basic theme of how interesting it was to make a silent film with a story told primarily through visual cues and body language.

However, the devil is in the details, and the styles and performers to which The Artist pays tribute only contribute to its overall sense of fun.

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