When Actions Spoke Louder than Words: ‘The Artist’ (2011)

It is 1927 and Hollywood is at its peak. The most famous silent film star is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), riding high from his latest success – the adventure A Russian Affair. At the premiere, he meets Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a flapper who is trying to break into show business. George gets her a part in his next film, and not long after, a technological breakthrough changes the industry forever: the arrival of sound. Almost overnight, “talkies” take over, and while Peppy’s career skyrockets, George’s plummets, a victim of disruption.

The Artist is a delectable black-and-white silent film shot in 1:33:1 to mimic the ratio that many 1920s silent films used. Dialogue is expressed using intertiles and Ludovic Bource’s jazzy score guides you through the narrative. The film is thoroughly rooted in the classics of the silent era and is filled with references to the early years of Hollywood, such as the grand Sunset Boulevard-style mansions, and Peppy’s line “I want to be alone” – an echo of Greta Garbo’s most famous quote from Grand Hotel.

The actors tap back into the forgotten art of silent movie acting, expressing themselves through their expressions and gestures. In one scene where Valentin prepares himself for a take, his stance and manner recalls Douglas Fairbanks, who was known for his swashbuckling roles in silent films. Crucially, The Artist does not spoof silent movies, nor does it wink at the audience. Instead, it wins the viewer with its perfectly judged tone and an engaging story that shifts from light and frothy to some unexpectedly harrowing moments. It is a loving tribute to the days when actions spoke louder than words.

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