Thursday, January 26, 2012
Armed with the score from Vertigo and the dog from The Thin Man, The Artist prods its audience with a thousand different pilfered pleasures. It’s a charm offensive wielding a crowbar—not necessarily to pry a smile out of you, but rather to open coffins while out on its grave-robbing expedition. Example: Is the gag about the extra that plays Napoleon and thinks he’s actually Napoleon a muddled reference to Josef Von Sternberg’s The Last Command? And does it even matter when the bit is so weak anyway? Writer-director Michael Hazanavicius is on his strongest footing when he relies on the real chemistry between his stars, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo (an impromptu dancing duel, a series of botched takes). But there isn’t enough vaseline in the world to make me buy into the film’s half-remembered nostalgia, which reduces film history into some sort of mawkish twaddle about how the medium moves forward by paying fealty to its forebears—an idea repudiated by The Artist’s very own unimaginative appropriations and distorted notions of silent film. Just compare this to the work of Guy Maddin, a movie obsessive who has internalized the grammar of the silents and learned to speak it fluently. Hazanavicius, on the other hand, memorizes a few phrases and tries to bluff his way through a conversation.