Monday, 6 February 2012

The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius (2011)

  1. The Artist is a curious film by Michel Hazanavicius about how awful it is being French.
  2. Hazanavicius' other major films, OSS 117: Le Caire, Nid d'Espions (Cairo Nest of Spies) and OSS 117: Rio Ne Repond Plus (Lost In Rio) are slapstick comedies about a clueless Gallic secret service agent, also played by Dujardin. Given meticulous 70s art direction, and a technicolour wash, these, too, are period pieces that use style to generate substance, comedies of nationality where being French is funny, rather than tragic.
  3. Critics like Peter Bradshaw keep writing about how it's a 'homage to the age of silent cinema'. This simply isn't so. Hazanavicius says that the majority of silent films are 'boring'. His influences are directors like John Ford, Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock and the film's references are all distinctly post-sound, like Vertigo. Hazanavicius was interested, first and foremost, in making a film without sound, rather than a silent film, setting it 1920s Hollywood merely provided him with a pretext for doing so.
  4. A French person will tell you that the word for cool in French is 'cool'. And if you say, 'no, what is it in French' they will look at you and shrug like a Pierrot.
  5. If you're a director who makes francophone cinema you will inevitably spend your career trapped in the ghetto. The Foreign Language category at the Oscars is just one example of the patronising apartheid that will be the closest you'll get to recognition in the US. By making a silent film Hazanavicius has entered through a side door. Most of the academy were probably delighted when they discovered they'd just watched a French film that didn't make them feel stupid. At the time of writing Labrokes are 1/6 on him to win Best Director.
  6. Just imagine if your language had no word for fun, and that every time you wanted to say something was fun the word that came out was charming. Obviously, the French don't make things easier for themselves by taking mime seriously, or dressing their children up in creepy little sailor outfits, but perhaps they only do that kind of thing because, tragically, they don't understand the meaning of the word charming either.
  7. As you no doubt noticed the film as shown at a 1:1.37 aspect ratio. And there is something genuinely transporting about the way it feels to be in a cinema, looking at this oddly square frame, listening to an audience laughing over the instrumental score, bathed in the flickering white light from the screen. 
  8. It is not true that John Goodman has never been in a bad film, in 2009 he had a major role in Confessions of a Shopaholic.
  9. You probably realised that there was a sense in which Valentin was the artist rather than just an artist that was about more than the scattergun deployment of the definite article in French. His story is an anatomy of talent. Because, nothing is more likely to make you averse to trying new things than being good at one thing in particular. Valentin is only prepared to change once the pain of not-changing begins to outweigh the pain of changing. That he does so without dignity, sustained only by the faith of the people who love him, is relatively unimportant. All an artist has to do is survive his own process, by whatever means necessary.
  10. The beautiful Berenice Bejo is Hazanavicius's wife. If you're a romantic you'll probably imagine that her off-screen role mirrored that of her character's, and that she sustained Hazanavicius through the, undoubtedly traumatic, process of making this strange film.