Imagine a feature film made during the silent era, lost and forgotten, to be found 80 years later? Would it even be released? Would it be a hit? Your perception perhaps would be a definitive 'no', but as 'The Artist' has shown, once again, that sound in cinema is highly over-rated. After all, for those who have forgotten, cinema is first and foremost, a visual medium.
Yet, "The Artist" is as cliched and melodramatic as they come. If it were competing with the best of the lot in the 1920s and 1930s, it would have been amongst the average films then, perhaps garnering no critical or commercial success.
The film thus works only in the context of the present since many of you have not watched a silent film and would be shocked by its temerity to hold your attention without uttering a word.
One thus only hopes that "The Artist" becomes an excuse for you to revisit the masterpieces of the 1920s and 1930s, the films of masters like Charlie Chaplin, F.W Murnau, Buster Keaton, Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, King Vidor, D W Griffith etc.
Watch for example Murnau's "Sunrise" or Frank Borzage's "Seventh Heaven", which matches "The Artist" in its melodrama.
Having said that one has to give "The Artist" its due. It is witty, intelligent, funny and poignant at the same time. The story that of an artist who finds himself obsolete with the changing times and technology and unable to cope, has been told several times before (one of the best being Charlie Chaplin's "Limelight"). Yet, it has a freshness that tugs at your heart even when you cringe at excessive melodrama.
You also forgive the makers for the melodrama and the excessive pathos. In our times, there is perhaps no way to make you realise the power of silent cinema than by making it it simplistic and unashamedly melodramatic.
In essence, this is also Charlie Chaplin's story, who refused to move to talking pictures even as the world did and in rebellion made "Modern Times", a huge hit despite hardly having sound. And even when he spoke for the first time in cinema, in "The Great Dictator", he did so to call for peace and justice for all in the world.
There is no doubt that a lot of hard work has gone into the making of "The Artist". For that and for the conviction of the producers to fund something like this, the film deserves to be seen as widely as possible.
See it and you'll definitely want to go forward into the past where silent black and white cinema scorched the silver screen and your mind space.
Critic: Satyen K. Bordoloi
(4 / 5) : Very Good