Friday, 21 October 2011

The Artist (LFF 2011)

Anyone who's ever spent even a tiny bit of time reading this blog will know that I'm more than a little partial to cinema from the silent era. So it's only natural that I'd get a little bit excited when buzz started emanating from Cannes earlier this year about a silent film. Even more tantalising, though, was the fact that this buzz was not focused around a film from before the invention of the talkies, but the world premiere of a brand-new film: The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius. To some, the idea of a modern-day silent might seem like madness, but as someone who still believes that many of the most interesting, imaginative and exciting films predate the 1930s, I started to wonder if this could be the rebirth of a glorious, and unfortunately all-but-lost, form of filmmaking. The fact that it's not the only silent film made in the last year supports this hope.

So, naturally, when the film received its UK premiere at the London Film Festival earlier this week I jumped at the chance to see it. I'd been worried that the film's subject and setting – it's the story of a silent film actor chewed up and spat out by the invention of the talkies – might prevent the film from ever rising above the level of parody, and it's true there's a definite element of this. The film also never lets you forget that it's a silent work in a sound age, with repeated intertitle jokes about 'not talking' ultimately proving a little too knowing for the film's own good. But these minor grumbles aside, the thing that struck me about the film is just how well it will play to a number of different audiences...Serious film fans will love it by default (or, at the least, the idea of it) while more general film fans will revel in its gorgeous visuals, its light-hearted humour, its warming romance and its superb performances. For all its supposed-boldness, it's an incredibly accessible film destined to no-doubt win over any viewer willing to give it a chance. Yes, it's far from perfect and at time strays a little close to cliché and sentimentality, but it's also a damn good ride by any standards, and the fact that it's silent only serves to make it all the more loveable.

Whether it will have the desired effect of opening the floodgates for more modern-day silents remains to be seen. The fact that it plays so well will encourage good word of mouth and (hopefully) a good box-office will follow. However, its subject matter and continued flirtation with knowing parody means that it's impossible to take it too seriously as a precedent for how further modern-day silents would fare. It's also true that, as perfectly crafted as it is, the filmmaking never enters truly exciting territory (compare, for instance, the cinema-going scenes here with the one found in
Anthony Asquith's A Cottage on Dartmoor).

Still, whatever its ultimate impact on the world of film, The Artist remains one of 2011s most enjoyable and interesting films so far. Let's hope it finds the success it deserves.