The Artist, Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Warner Bros. France, October 12, 2011 (France)
Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo
Slouched low for cover in a movie theatre chair, what I really wanted was invisibility. The wondrous act of slinking wholly out of sight from the friend seated at my side would have quashed any rising fear that a private moment faced scrutiny. A grown man breaking down deserved a solitary place to grapple with feelings welling over beyond control.
Ducking attention while firmly present, however, posed a challenge, particularly when incandescent bursts of light reflected off the screen and over my distressed profile like the flash of paparazzo camera bulbs illuminating the star attraction making an entrance. The slightest movement focused poised lenses to capture, suspend, and reprint reclusion for anyone to ogle.
My core contracted and loosened, as emotions rippled through my body determined to make an escape. Heat tingled across my face. My chest tensed and strained my breath. I struggled to repress tears, but waterworks streamed down flushed cheeks. I was awash in a torrent of joy.
Just beforehand, the picture’s spunky heroine, a budding starlet, approached a coatrack crowned by a black top hat and decked out below in the silhouette of our hero’s black tailcoat, which hung listlessly on a hanger until her yearning touch engaged the prop, ostensibly a stand-in for the suit’s owner, a handsome leading man with whom she has fallen in love, to perform an uninhibited solo pantomime that evoked a blithe scene of canoodling lovers. Her reverie gets embarrassingly interrupted, when the guy enters his Hollywood studio dressing room and catches her lost in fantasy with his possessions. I admit. An actress playing an actress nuzzling formalwear triggered the weepy meltdown.
The endearing occasion of wordless black-and-white make-believe—the film plays virtually without dialogue in loving homage to the silent era and cinematic history at large—held me under its exuberant spell.
From a newspaper headline montage:
“I’m not a puppet, I’m an artist!”
-George Valentin (Jean Dujardin)
Back to scene:
Crying at that point in the film would have seemed mad to the outside observer; comedic routines are reserved for laughs. Nevertheless, the manner in which the slackened threads were coaxed to life and romantic longing was conveyed on the actress’s expressive face roused a jaded part of me that considered enchantment nearly extinct from cinema. The filmmakers went retro without a hint of cynicism or post-modern loftiness, and, in the process, I re-bonded with the once familiar reason why I was drawn to darkened theatres week after week, year after year, ever since I was a young boy. I left with passions re-affirmed.
Walking back to our respective cars, my friend and I discussed our impressions of the marvel: wonderful acting; beautiful production design; a luscious score; and careful attention to detail, including the jerky speeded up film, the Academy aspect ratio of the image, and period-perfect costumes. There was one topic we never broached, though. I kept silent, and my friend respectfully never brought up the blubbering mess I became in the middle of one of the most high-spirited films that either of us had experienced in a very long time. Who knows? Maybe my pal never caught sight of the sobbing. Nor should one rule out that, by a brush of magic, I simply disappeared for a while.