“For better or worse, Romanticism and nostalgia are so frequently associated as to be nearly synonymous. An influential account of Romantic thought across Europe once characterized the movement by its ‘nostalgia for the natural object, expanding to become nostalgia for the origin of this object,’ and the longing for nature is but one of many returns associated with the period.”
– The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry
First off, “The Artist” is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, used for 35mm films in the silent era and used today for film production under the name Super 35. As soon as the film begins to roll you notice that something’s off.
“A black and white movie that’s square? How old is this thing?” Well it’s not old at all in fact, it was just shot that way to make you wonder that very question.
The other nostalgic romanticism behind this French film is that it’s silent. Seriously. It’s got it’s own soundtrack playing over top the entire film, featuring original compositions along with a few classics from actual old films.
Set in 1927, “The Artist” focuses on silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and up and coming actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). The two first meet when Miller trips onto Valentin on the red carpet of his new premiere. He of course catches her and their moment goes on to be featured in Variety the next morning. That same day, Valentin goes to the studio to discover that Miller is an extra in his new project. They take turns flirting but the romance goes nowhere since Valentin is married.
The conflict of the film arises when the movie studio Valentin works for, decides to halt all silent productions and focuses solely on “talkies.” Years go by and as Valentin fades into silence for refusing to speak in a role while Miller talks her way onto the scene as Hollywood’s newest starlet.
Between the whimsical music, on-screen chemistry between the leads, a brilliant supporting cast featuring a dog that’s more likable than most actors in Hollywood, and moments that make you think to yourself “I didn’t know they could do that in a movie,” I consider this (mostly) silent film as one of my favorite films of 2011.
It’s currently showing at Baxter Avenue Theaters. I would recommend seeing this one on the big screen in an awkwardly silent theater that makes you ever-so-slightly squirmish when you realize you’re the only one laughing in an otherwise quite room.