Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Artist

It’s easy to see why the pseudo-silent film, The Artist has emerged as this year’s darling in the Best Picture race. Its nostalgia for cinema’s yesteryear is emblematic of an increasingly visible trend in Hollywood lore to romanticize the analog days. But The Artist sets itself apart from other works pining for the past because it is built entirely on a gimmick. Playing to broad traditions and styles of 20’s cinema, screenwriter and director Michel Hazanavicius tries to embody Hollywood’s golden age while lamenting the inevitable progress of technology. That’s about as far as it goes regarding thematic depth. The film’s real showcase is how skillfully it manipulates and presents film form. In this regard, Hazanavicius serves up a few particularly inventive visual tricks and every so often teases us with moments of compositional beauty. But the story's focus on the tragedy of a silent star's fall from prominence and how the guilt-stricken Vamp revives him is askew. So unless I am missing deeper significance of the mimicry and layers of meta-ness, The Artist amounts to little more than a stylistic exercise, albeit a modestly enjoyable one. Even so, Hazanavicius’ emphasis on style and simple storytelling is not what dogs The Artist. That it is a copy and a gimmick bears little relation to the deeper truth that this film lacks a soul. (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) **

[Note: I'm currently penning a longer essay that looks at the film in a different critical context.]

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