The Artist follows silent movie superstar George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) as the emergence of talkies destroys his career and complicates his burgeoning love for rising ingénue Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). While the plot is familiar (see Singin' in the Rain), Hazanavicius's savvy direction keeps a safe distance from homage.
Without words as a crutch, save for a handful of dialogue cards and John Goodman's great enunciation, the filmmaker relies on a range of other tools for extrapolation. Using sly set pieces and a dense, symbolic landscape (a fantastic stair sequence, some well-timed quicksand and a glut of reflections), he has little need for vocal chords.
Throughout, Hazanavicius and cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman keep the camera moving, maintaining a spry pace even in moments of desolation. Moreover, Ludovic Bource's outstanding score accentuates and advances the plot, while a crack art department renders a gorgeous, fully realized Depression-era world.
Still, it is Dujardin's masterful performance that transforms the film from a pretty curio into an instant classic. The French actor, primarily known for comic roles and a spy satire, seamlessly moves between charming, mugging, pathos, despair and catharsis, delivering a nuanced breakout performance.
In Bejo (Hazanavicius's real-life wife), he finds an absolutely charming muse, while James Cromwell is strong as a dutiful servant, but ultimately, it's Dujardin's movie. (Alliance)