No mincing words on this one - I loved this film. LOVED it. There's usually one film out of my TIFF selections that I end up adoring, and this is the clear favourite so far. This one already has tons of buzz from Cannes and TIFF, and has names like John Goodman and James Cromwell in it and Bérénice Bejo is a gorgeous face to plant on posters. But, it IS a silent film about the end of the silent film era, so it probably falls into that quirky category that the morons that market movies can't figure out how to sell effectively.
George Valentin is THE movie star of silent films. He lives the high life in Hollywood in the late 20's, with a seemingly endless stream of crowd-pleasing movies with his name on the marquee. He hams it up for audiences, oozes charisma, and is on top of the world. But a new technology is coming in - sound. George laughs off this new form as nothing more than a fad, only to see his career dry up overnight as talkies take the world by storm.
The movie follows his descent from star to has-been, while at the same time charting the rise of Peppy Miller, a young ingenue whose career was launched by an accidental encounter with George. Peppy, infatuated with George and never forgetting how he helped her, tries to help him in return to regain his status, but has to break through his wall of pride and ego first.
The film is a thing of beauty. Shot in a style that itself an homage to silent film - black and white, with a constant musical score underlying every scene, and completely silent except for two notable scenes - it shows that this nearly abandoned form still has much to offer. Actors are forced to act without voices; dialogue is often unimportant (and unrevealed), leaving the audience to fill in the blanks of what might have been said. Hell, even the dog becomes a more effective actor (and won the prestigious "Palme Dog" at Cannes). By eliminating one of the senses we associate with movies, it forces us to watch more intently, and draws us deeper into this world.
I found it interesting that as I watched, I kept comparing the presentation to that of another of my fest favourites - Pontypool. Where that production relied almost entirely on speech and voice to present its drama, itself nearly a radio play, The Artist relies solely on the visual, eschewing speech entirely.
Sure, there are observations to be made regarding those who are left behind by technological progress, or the ability of mankind to rebound from the bleakest depths, or even how the fickle nature of Hollywood has been largely unchanged over the decades, but in the end this is a movie that can be enjoyed purely for the story it tells and the means it uses to tell it.