Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. France/Belgium, 2011. Studio 37, La Petite Reine, La Classe Américaine, JD Prod, France 3 Cinema, Jouror Productions, uFilm, Canal+, CineCinema, France Télévision, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Federal de Belgique. Screenplay by Michel Hazanavicius. Cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman. Produced by Thomas Langmann. Music by Ludovic Bource. Production Design by Laurence Bennett. Costume Design by Mark Bridges. Film Editing by Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius. Academy Awards 2011. Cannes Film Festival 2011. Golden Globe Awards 2011. Toronto International Film Festival 2011.
The cinema receives a heartfelt valentine in this film that incorporates the techniques of the early silent days to a fresh end result. Jean Dujardin is astoundingly perfect as a John Gilbert-esque star of film adventures whose career crashes and burns at the very moment that sound cinema becomes the industry standard in the late twenties. Berenice Bejo is delightful as the girl he discovers on a sidewalk before her star begins to ascend in direct proportion to his downfall, which the stock market crash of 1929 does nothing to help. Its plotting, reminiscent of A Star Is Born, is straight out of a Hollywood standard, but it is its format that really resonates: the film not only takes place in the world of silent films, it is a silent film, taking away synchronized dialogue to strip the story down to emotional essentials. There’s a delicate precision to the way that visual cues tell narrative stories in unsubtle but grandly elegant ways, reminding us of why early cinema captured audiences with such tidal strength. The actors have immense chemistry and do not need words, with Dujardin in particular doing a knockout job of embodying the performance style and charisma of the era’s greatest stars. Director Michel Hazanavicius employs shadowy photography (which is gorgeus) and sometimes hammy humour (dog tricks) of the period without ever getting self-aware about it. The film may not revive a faded era in order to tell an important story about society–this isn’t Far From Heaven, where the style is deceptively shallow over a deep and important social theme (in that case the human tendency to be defined by community)–but its style is very much its substance. It is not a gimmick movie, its sincerity is its greatest asset, with laughs coming from a deep place that make it much more than an exercise in retro stylistics, and the characters have a romance so touching that it is quite moving by the film’s end.