There are many ways to tell a story. But the thing is, with an overdose of movies from all direction, nothing looks original anymore. At a time like that, it is the format, style and the way the story often take over. I’m not talking about the junk entertainment that is churned out in Bollywood or Hollywood for that matter. But watching a movie like ‘The Artist’ makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you sad and makes you care for the characters.
There is a whole generation out there now which might have never seen a black n white movie. As a child of the 80s I remember those Charlie Chaplin movies on Doordharshan in India and a lot of Black n White movies of Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and actors of that era have told me melodramatic and sometimes interesting stories in my childhood. However, I wonder the generation after me really got any taste of that.
The Artist – nominated for 10 Oscars this year – is a black n white, silent movie for 99.5 per cent of the run time. And for some reason it has opened to mixed reaction from the audience, where the youngsters walk out of the theaters claiming they don’t follow the silent movie or don’t like the black n white. Thankfully the number of people with such reaction is much lesser than the ones who actually found it to be heartwarming tribute to the vintage Hollywood.
The story is simple, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the superstar of the Silent movies and the tide is changing as in the late 1920s the talking movies are coming. His producer shows George footage of a talking movie and tells him, “This is the future” and George tells him with mocking laughter, “If this is the future, you can keep it.” His ego and some miscalculated steps bring him down from the stardom too soon. When the transition to the talking movies doesn’t happen for Valentin, he tells himself and the world that he is an ‘artist’ and silent movies would stay on. He makes a failed attempt at producing and directing one out of his own pocket. However, he couldn’t be in denial anymore.
On the other hand, as a movie star, he had touched the life of a beautiful extra artist Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who gets phenomenal success in the talkies as a lead actress and still holds Valentin in high regard. Valentin’s relationship with the cinema and Peppy drive the movie around. His side kick here isn’t a moderately good-looking man with a heart of gold who can save him at the right time, this job is given to the Dog, Uggie who can act! Uggie can give acting classes to many Hindi film actors.
There is nothing new about the story of a star falling down because of his ego but again, it is all about the way the story is told. Valentin talks with his face and Peppy plays her part right. But all this is happening on the screen without the dialogues. I was surprised but I didn’t miss anyone talking on the screen at all.
It is the scenes that stay with you, when Valentin burns his film reels and gets caught in the fire himself, when Uggie acts up on an accidental gun shot of Valentin or when Peppy thinks of Valentin while putting on her beauty mark that he gave to her.
This is a French production paying homage to Hollywood and you end up thinking of movies like Singing in the Rain. (Though that one was a musical talkie, the story seems to follow it very closely.)
There is no rhyme or reason why something catches the fancy of the whole world. But here, I can think of one. Perhaps, ‘The Artist’ strikes the right chords cause it speaks the universal language of silence.