(director/writer: Michel Hazanavicius; cinematographer: Guillaume Schiffman; editors: Anne-Sophie Bion/Michel Hazanavicius; music: Ludovic Bource; cast: Jean Dujardin (George Valentin), Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller), (Clifton), (Doris), Malcolm McDowell (the Butler), Missi Pyle (Constance), Beth Grant (Peppys Maid), Ed Lauter (Peppys Butler), Joel Murray (Policeman), Ken Davitan (Pawnbroker), Uggie (the Dog), (Al Zimmer); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Thomas Langmann; the Weinstein Company; 2011)
“It’s a valentine to the cinema that comes from the heart.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The French promoted homage to the Hollywood silent films of the 1920s is directed and written by Michel Hazanavicius (“OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies”). It’s a goofy way to recreate the mixed feelings for some that surrounded the emergence of talkies–with the established silent screen stars no longer sure of the future and the up-and-coming stars of the new Talkie medium full of confidence. By shooting the pic in the same monochrome and silent film form with inter-titles, we are put in the same frame of mind as those living through those changing times. The film’s main asset is that it vibrantly captures the nostalgia and glamor of those early days of Hollywood.
It opens in 1927, with the narcissistic show-off matinee idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), usually with his cute dog by his side, hogging all the attention at a press coverage for the premiere of his new film The Russian Affair. The cooing George, the public’s favorite dashing romantic lead, is the prize catch at Kinograph Studios, where the sourpuss studio head Al Zimmer () reigns supreme. When Variety has on its first page the next day the photo of a mystery woman kissing George during the premiere coverage, his jealous wife () goes into a snit at the breakfast table in their Beverly Hills mansion. Later when George shows up at work, the mystery woman, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an aspiring unemployed actress, surprisingly turns up with a gig as a chorus dancer in the star’s new film ‘The German Affair.’
When the talkies are introduced in 1929 and his studio no longer makes silents, George finds himself unemployed and goes into a free-fall (he loses his house, wife and the services of his loyal man-servant-after he produces on his own another silent that bombs at the b.o.). Despite the end of the silent era, the obstinate star refuses to speak on film. Meanwhile Peppy Miller is the fresh face promoted by the studio and becomes a star of the talkies.
The fun is in seeing what a glorious technical job the filmmaker does in recreating that pioneering film period and giving us a way to relive that experience. It’s a valentine to the cinema that comes from the heart. I can’t say I enjoyed it as much as I appreciated it for its attention to detail, its not being ashamed to be so corny and that it was executed in such a charming style that showed a deep respect to those talented artists (especially the European creators) who helped kick off the film industry with an elegant beginning. Though far from a great movie, it’s nevertheless an irresistible one.
REVIEWED ON 12/21/2011 GRADE: B