Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist, added to the Cannes competition at the last minute, is both a surefire crowdpleaser and a magnificent piece of film-making. Whatever else, this is also surely the most enjoyable contender for the Palme d’Or this year.
It’s a silent movie set in the Hollywood of the late 1920s. The story of a Douglas Fairbanks-like movie star (Jean Dujardin) fallen on hard times, it evokes memories of everything from A Star Is Born to Citizen Kane, from Scott Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby Stories to Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon and even Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight. French director Hazanavicius (best known for spy spoof OSS 117) isn’t the first film-maker in recent years to make a silent movie but he is doing it on a far grander scale than any of his predecessors.
As the film begins, George Valentin (Dujardin) is at the top of his game. Fans swoon over his every public appearance. He is a dashing and charming figure with a sense of mischief. He is accompanied everywhere by his pet mutt (a Jack Russell which looks a very likely winner of the annual Palm Dog award for best canine performance in Cannes). By chance, he meets an up-and-coming starlet called Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).