There’s no better way to end the year than by catching this delightful homage to silent cinema – a tender, witty and exceedingly clever caprice from the OSS-117 team of director Michel Hazanavicius and leading man Jean Dujardin.
Set in Hollywood at the end of the ’20s, it’s essentially Singin’ In The Rain meets A Star Is Born with some Citizen Kane thrown in. Most of all, however, it’s a great big hug of a movie guaranteed to send you out into the cold with a smile on your face.
With an adoring public behind him and a string of box-office hits under his belt, George Valentin (Dujardin) is rarely without one as the story begins. Yet that grin soon fades as the wordless extravaganzas on which his career depends are swept aside by the craze for talkies.
Unwilling or unable to make the transition, George’s star fades just as that of his protégé Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) rises. The twist is that this Tinseltown yarn is told itself as a black-and-white silent, complete with intertitles, soft-focus close-ups and constant musical accompaniment.
It’s not entirely a dumb show, one hilarious dream sequence seeing George tormented by the new scourge of sound and a climactic line of spoken dialogue. For the most part, though, Hazanavicius stays faithful to his inspiration in a way that makes his film both a nostalgic throwback and a work of art in its own right.
Dujardin replicates the polished urbanity of Douglas Fairbanks, while his Argentine-born co-star is so puckishly charming that, had she been born 100 years ago, she would have given Clara Bow a run for her money.
The toast of Cannes, The Artist could go all the way. Best Picture? Don’t bet against it.