Looking at Wikipedia it describes this film as a “French romantic comedy-drama film in the style of a black-and-white silent film”. So as you see I was expecting something slightly unusual from the usual dreadful blockbuster films that you see.
So basically the film is about an “artist” called George Valentin who’s essentially a Charlie Chaplin type-figure and here he is one of the biggest comedy stars of the 1920s silent-movie cinema age. It charts his rise and fall and then eventual rise again of his career while having a romantic relationship with an extra turned major movie actress (Bérénice Bejo).
First of all I would commend the lead actor Jean Dujardin who does a perfect job act conveying the aforementioned artist. He fits the role of the charismatic comedian character really well and conveys the charm and humour needed for the role brilliantly. He also has one of the most infectious and wonderful smiles I’ve seen in a while. Not only does he do that well he then flips it on his head and also portrays the tragic downfall of his character with similar impeccability.
As mentioned above Bérénice Bejo as co-star Peppy Miller does a similarly good job and should be praised for her endearing portrayal of a rather vain yet at heart well-meaning and good person. In fact I would extend that praise to all the actors as they all convey the emotions and feelings of the characters they are playing…oh yeah and also do that without speaking. At all. Throughout the film. Okay perhaps a tiny bit at the end but that doesn’t really matter. I’d say that this gets them extra kudos as I can’t imagine it was easy for them and shows what good actors they really are.
Directing wise this film is also excellent. The black and white look to the film is beautifully stylish and suits the era of the film perfectly. The director Michel Hazanavicius has managed to recreate 1920s America superbly with some shots looking like they were straight out of a documentary. He has recreated the feel of the 1920s golden age of silent films with effortless ease and makes you actually believe in the world he is presenting.
Music I’d say though plays one of the biggest parts in this movie. Rather than it being merely a backtracking to the events on screen it often acts as the main instigator in what you’re meant to feel at a particular moment. This is mostly due to the fact that there is no dialogue, the actors do a part in helping the plot move along but I’d say music is just as important. When George is at his highest and revelling in the love from the audience, the music’s high and upbeat. Yet when he is sitting alone in his little house watching films of his glory days the music is low and melancholy. It essentially acts as a mood changer and is crucial to your enjoyment to the film. It’s not too surprising then that it won the Academy Award for Best Original Score at last year’s Oscars.
But it has its flaws. One of the biggest reasons this film was so famous was the amount of critical acclaim it got. And I can’t help thinking that it is a touch overrated. It’s a good film for sure and I wouldn’t want to trash it, but is it really one of the best all-time greatest films ever made? Does it really, really truly deserve the sheer amount of awards it got? Hmm, I don’t know. Probably. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I just think compared to some other film this got a near ridiculous level of hysteria surrounding it. Also I think the ending is terribly tacked on and felt very rushed. As if they were desperately trying to shoe-horn all the results in very quickly and try and wrap it up as soon as they could.
But I think generally I can forgive them for any quibbles I have. The film is so ambitious and bold that I can easily way it’s strengths from its weaknesses (which are very few anyway). You have to admire the sheer bravery involved with this. What the director has done is say “Hey! I am going to make a 1 hour silent movie that relies solely on music and the actor’s performance with little to no text to help the audience understand what’s going on and the audience will like and be interested in it. ” That could off been a recipe for disaster, but y’know what? It wasn’t, it paid off and it paid off spectacularly.
And anyway, for a silent French film to be nominated for ten and to win 5 Oscars including best picture (the first silent film to win that since 1927), 7 BAFTAS including best picture, 3 Golden Globes and featured on countless top 10 best pics of 2011 lists is surely a testimony to this film’s achievements. Funny, smart, captivating, engrossing and solid, concrete proof that risk taking in art can work, and work well.