Silence is golden in Oscar-nominated ‘The Artist’

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, March 7, 2012

by Chuck Lilley

Rating: Four thumbs up

Within the present interconnected world of electronic communication, can a black-and-white film without sound hold the interest of an audience? “The Artist” does so by totally entrapping our emotions.

Approach “The Artist” with an open mind, and you will not be disappointed. Why not pry your reluctant high-school-aged children (“The Artist” is rated PG-13) from their cell phones, computers, Facebook, 4G communication standards, flat-screen televisions, etc., and escape together into a world of original, silent filmmaking that was prevalent in Hollywood throughout the 1920s?

What is so refreshing about this viewing experience is that the absence of sound forces our imaginations to complete the unspoken words from the actors. The audience must depend on the actor’s exaggerated facial and physical movements to link our emotions with the circumstances of the plot. We become totally absorbed within this unique combination of imagination and exaggeration, and we become all in.

At its heart, “The Artist” is a tragic, Depression-era (the black-and-white film intensifies the period) love story that is set within Hollywood. There is abundant conflict between the intertwined career paths of an established silent-screen star and an engaging upstart. One life will spiral dramatically into an abyss; the other will soar to great heights. We become helplessly entrapped within their journeys, unable to reverse the unfolding tragedy.

The male lead, George Valentin (a not-so-subtle reference to the former silent film star Rudolph Valentino) is played in debonair style by French actor Jean Dujardin. For his strong performance, it is not surprising that Dujardin won Best Actor at this year’s Academy Awards. He is the self-described Artist of the film. His character is presented as the toast of Hollywood, a silent-film star whose talent and persona can successfully create an onscreen canvass for an adoring audience.

The female upstart, Peppy Miller, played by actress Berenice Bejo, is refreshingly attractive but ruthlessly ambitious. Her star is on the rise, and she is highly desirous of what Valentin possesses: material success and adulation. She allows her career to quickly adapt to a technological breakthrough, the microphone. However, her character must continually struggle between her raging ambition and her tender instincts. It is a powerful match to which audience members with initiative and desire will readily identify.

The two leads ultimately find substance within a superficial Hollywood, where the only yardstick of success is depicted as materialistic. Valentin and Miller become more likeable as the film progresses, and, as a result, the audience hopes for a favorable outcome. Not until the final scenes will the director and screenwriter allow for certainty about this relationship; they cleverly keep us guessing.

“The Artist” expertly portrays a bygone era, and we gain meaningful insights into a generation that was devoid of abundant material possessions. The film also serves as a reminder that true art lies within our imaginations. For these insights and that simple, universal reminder, Chuck’s rating is: Four thumbs up.

CHUCK LILLEY is a Franklin resident and retired corporate manager. His email address is