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Silent cinema speaks volumes

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An unexpected feel-good film has come out of France this year and rattled the chains of award ceremonies and film festivals everywhere. Why so unexpected? It’s black and white. And it’s silent.

The Artist is a romance directed by Michel Hazanavicius and documents the decline of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) in Hollywood in the turn of the 20s and 30s. Dujardin was awarded best actor at the film’s premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where the flick was moved into competition just a week before the festivities commenced.

With Valentin’s star on the wane, the rise of a young actress Peppy Miller (Hazanavicius’s wife Bérénice Bejo) comes as the silent film becomes redundant and the talkies start to prevail. The two are in love despite George being married and Peppy’s sass soon overtaking his notoriety in Tinsel town.

Peppy and George are a jigsaw construction of vintage movie stars, Gene Kelly, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford all named as inspiration. With the beautiful classic memories these greats bring to mind, it’s no wonder it shined at Cannes amongst a sea of somber scenes of prostitution, the end of the world and child abuse suggesting, perhaps, we all need a little light in our lives.

The mass popularity of the image-driven melodrama was a long shot, but the Weinsteins’ disagree and have begun their distribution of the film in Anglophone territories, following it’s October release in France. It may be a French film but it’s silent and set in Hollywood and it has the Weinsteins’ to generate its already heavy Oscar buzz.

The Artist is currently showing in US and UK cinemas.

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