Whilst it might not initially sound like the most inviting proposition, this black and white 4:3 ratio silent melodrama is really worth your effort. It’s as much a celebration of cinema itself as it is an uplifting and joyous tale.
The inter-titles first pop up with the year – 1927 – in a beautiful curvy typeface, and the film starts with a truly inspiring scene that has you yearning to travel back to the late twenties to really appreciate the spectacle and atmosphere of a filled huge cinema theatre with a live band accompanying the images on the screen. But as the music winds down to silence at the end of this scene, I did have a moments concern that perhaps the format wouldn’t maintain itself over the feature length.
Concerns that were not realised, as watching a silent film like this (which does have a musical score and occasional dialogue inter-titles) is similar to watching a sub-titled foreign language film in that you don’t really notice the format after a few minutes. You do have to pick your moment to open a bottle of sparkling water though!
The characters of the story (there’s only two leads and two or three supporting roles really, unless you count the dog) are endearing and rounded from the start and you really feel for them as they ride the highs and lows of the film. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the confident and ebullient silent film actor at the top of his game who bumps into fan and aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) outside the premiere of his new film. The film studio set is beautiful and there’s a charming scene with George’s jacket when Peppy calls into his dressing room. The plot is painted mainly with images, with surprisingly few inter-titles required to clarify things along the way, although I did miss some information in one particular section where Goerge rushes home after an exchange on the street in front of a shop window – the reasoning of his actions was lost on me there. Also, you can’t help but think that George could have made his life a whole lot easier at times, but then it wouldn’t be a melodrama if he had I suppose.
The cast is completed with cigar-smoking film boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman), George’s wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) whose doodling touches are very funny, and George’s driver Clifton (James Cromwell) who is a kind, generous, reliable man.
In fact, sitting in the cinema with ripped jeans, a t-shirt, a hoody and a few days stubble I felt incredibly underdressed. George has the most marvellous moustache (take note for movember) and everyone on screen is impeccably turned out and polite.
So, it’s funny, touching, fully engaging, beautifully shot and coherent, this is a very good film.
4 on 5
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell
UK Release – 30th December 2011