Cannes movie recalls magic of the silent era

Sun May 15, 2011 6:50am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

CANNES, France (Reuters) - There was loud applause in Cannes on Sunday for "The Artist," a black-and-white, silent movie that recreated the magic of the "pre-talkie" era and brought relief from a relentlessly dark competition lineup.

Directed by France's Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is a romance set in Hollywood in the late 1920s and early 1930s as cinema was undergoing a seismic shift from silent to sound.

Central hero George Valentin, a mustachioed, larger-than-life screen idol with a passing resemblance to Douglas Fairbanks, refuses to believe that sound is the future, and after the economic crash of 1929 falls on hard times.

Up-and-coming actress Peppy Miller meets him and falls in love, but as he fades from the limelight she becomes a superstar and their paths diverge.

Tension and emotion come through the old-fashioned crafts of larger-than-life acting and a full orchestral score, and Hazanavicius revels in playing with the absence of sound.

He employs title cards and introduces sound only once in the main body of the movie when Valentin has a nightmare. In the buildup to the denouement, an intertitle appears with the word "BANG!," at which point the audience gasped in surprise.

"I wanted to tell the tale in this way that is purely visual, it's pure cinema," said Hazanavicius, best known in France for his commercially successful spy spoof movies.

"And indeed it was the substance of some of the greatest directors in cinema."   Continued...

<p>Director Michel Hazanavicius (R) poses with cast members Jean Dujardin (L) and Berenice Bejo (C) during a photocall for the film "The Artist" in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, May 15, 2011. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann</p>