QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded

The Artist

So I finally got around to watching this. I was very much struck how Jean Dujardin, the "annoying" male lead seemed to be playing the same character he plays in the OSS 117 films. Neither of those seem to have been reviewed here, so a quick summary:

Imagine that after Dr. No came out, the French made a James Bond spoof. Now imagine that you are watching that spoof decades later. That is OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio. The style, camera work, story, credit sequence, etc, all scream 1960s, but the older of the two is from 2006.

OSS 117 is self-confident to the point of myopia, blatently sexist and racist, and in denial about his homosexuality. But he often interacts with more worldly people whom he tries to convince of the greatness of France. He goes on missions to exotic locations, has affairs with women there, and gets the job done without growing any.

Then at the start of The Artist, here's Dujardin again playing an international in piece that recreates an earlier period of cinema. He (the George Valentin character, not the spy he plays in "A Russian Affair" and "A German Affair") is self-confident to a fault, blind to the obvious truths of his wife, the young star, and the future of cinema. And doing all this in the cinematic style of the 20s. Dujardin is putting the same smugness, the same lack of introspection, the same blind stubbornness into George Valentin.

(Checking today, I see that both of those OSS-117 films are also directed by the same director as this one: Michel Hazanavicius. Bejo, who plays Peppy here, was also in Cairo, Nest of Spies.)

The dog is very similar to Asta in the Thin Man movies, and in some ways George Valentin is reminescent of Nick Charles, the character that owns Asta, but largely just in look.

The path of the story in The Artist is very predictable, but that's often the case with comedies. There are a lot of amusing little details such as the odd parallel between Mrs Valentin drawing all over the photos of her husband and George drawing (literally) on the face of Peppy, the young starlet. Uggie, the name of the dog that plays Jack in the movie, is listed in the credits of one of the films Peppy gets a roll in. The titles of most of the in-story films are as good as intertitles cards in some places, eg "The Thief of Her Heart" looms in the background when Peppy first visits Valentin's changing room.

One weakness of this film is that the tap dancing, which would have been top notch in a big production from the era this takes place in, is only adequate. In a few other ways the film does not feel true to silent era. The intertitles are far too briefly shown. Some of the camera movements and angles seem a bit too modern. Bejo seems too thin for Peppy. The whole movie seems too long. Vaseline is used to smear the image in places, but a circular mask to focus the attention would have been more likely.

I'd say five reels out of seven, and go see the OSS films.

Final thought: assuming a fifteen minute reel