Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist is an interesting film. It is (almost entirely) a silent film, about the transition from silent film to talking moving pictures, similar to Singin' in the Rain. George Valentin (Dujardin) is the silent film star and Peppy Miller (Bejo) is the rising new talent. As Peppy continues her ascension to the top by embracing the future, Valentin inevitably loses his fame and fortune by his refusal to give in to what he sees as a passing fad. Valentin sees all of his wealth auctioned off and is eventually pushed to the brink of suicide.
The story is deeper than it seems at first. One could look at it with the lens of gender politics. It serves as an allegory for the emasculation of man, as well as the rise of the powerful woman and feminism as a whole. One could also look at it with the lens of revolution. It is about anything and everything in life that is affected by the unending onslaught of technological advances. We saw it with talking pictures, with color film, and perhaps we are seeing it now with 3D movies. But it is about any revolution, not just in movies and not just with technology. It is about men clinging to their past glory and failing to fully grasp the threat of change.
But just because a movie has a lot to say doesn't mean it's good. I came into the theater knowing nothing about the film, not even that it was silent, and I think that was a mistake. I felt increasingly claustrophobic in the theater, as if I was taking off in an airplane and my ears weren't popping. The pressure kept building up and building up in my head as I waited for someone to make a sound, but the oppressive silence continued. I understand why Hazanavicius chose to make it silent, and indeed there are two phenomenal scenes that derive their power from the silence (the nightmare sequence and the "BANG!" at the end), but I just couldn't take it.
I don't know what it was about this movie, because I love silent films that were made in that era, but I just could not tolerate this one. It already had the difficult task competing with Singin' in the Rain in content, and starting the movie off in silence drew comparisons to how The Wizard of Oz started off in monochrome. (Also, there is a scene where Peppy sticks her arm in the sleeve of a hanging jacket and pretends it is a man hugging her that I am sure was stolen for another movie, but I can't remember which, and I find that irritating for some reason.)
All in all, this is a movie that takes a chance by using silence, and does so to great effect, but which may easily alienate some viewers. I don't quite know how to explain my bad experience, but I am sure others will be better able to appreciate this film for what it is.
IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1655442/