I was afraid The Artist would be a pretentious piece of crud, partly because it had won so many awards, and partly because it was both in black-and-white and almost without sound.
After all, using black and white now can seem gimmicky or simply too precious and cutesy. It’s not used a lot for full movies anymore, but it is used quite frequently for portions of movies — Schindler’s List, Dead Again and Oz the Great and Powerful all used black and white for various purposes and scenes, each in a slightly different way.
I’m happy to say that I didn’t think The Artist was pretentious. It was actually a pretty simple movie about a man’s downward career trajectory while he watches a woman’s upward career trajectory, and how the two interrelate. I’d hesitate to call it a romance, though it is billed that way, and there are a few moments where it almost becomes romantic, but misses the mark.
I learned something important from The Artist: most of the time, you don’t really need to hear the words to understand what’s going on in a scene. The acting is enough, and knowing the specific words doesn’t make a huge amount of difference.
I also learned that by minimizing the sound in a movie, you can make the sounds you do use especially meaningful. During the few scenes in The Artist that feature sound, that sound is always meaningful. In one it is momentous and terrifying, disturbing and upsetting. In the other scene, the sound is a triumph. This movie used sound in a different way than any other movie I’ve ever seen.
I’m not saying the movie was perfect. It dragged a bit in some places, and could have benefited by another run-through with the editorial scissors.
I didn’t much care for the lead actress, Berenice Bejo, but mostly on the grounds that she looked nothing like the movie stars of that era. Perhaps more could have been done with her makeup to give her that look–the lead actor, Jean Dujardin looked perfect for his era, so why worry about giving the woman the chalk-white-face and makeup of her time period as well? Why does the woman have to be contemporary-pretty when the man can have that old-fashioned mustache and slicked-back hair?
Finally, the music could have used a bit more variety. When the music is all your audience will hear for most of the film, you need to change the music more often. The music was very good, but some of it was quite repetitive.
All in all, I enjoyed The Artist, but if you see it, be sure to watch it when you’re in a patient mood and want to see a character-driven dramedy. It’s really a simple little movie, but you’ll need to keep your eyes on the screen and avoid multitasking while you watch it.