‘The Artist’, with little artistry
So an egoist who behaves quite selfishly while he is on top of his industry loses his advantage. Just before doing so, he meets a stalker-ish woman, who has aspirations to fame in his field. Their encounter is brief, but it sticks in her head, and he seems inclined towards infidelity should life not change so precipitously. She rises. He falls. They both display ugliness in their respective processes. He becomes increasingly self-absorbed and pitying, until his wife, colleagues, and admirers leave him and he is left alone (except for the dog). She demonstrates a penchant for insensitivity, and for obsession with the man that she had one rare encounter with. He tries to annihilate himself. She grows frantic to save him. Nobody earns any empathy (except for the dog). Then there’s a fancy dance scene to wrap it all up and communicate that these two narcissists are going to prosper despite the age of movie sound. This was Hollywood’s best for 2011?
The one spot that actually contained artistry (other than the dog’s scenes) was the beautiful nightmare sequence, when sound invades Valentin’s silent universe. The selection of sounds to amplify collaborated perfectly with the decision to keep his voice muted. The all too brief moment verged on the surreal and remained haunting. A more interesting movie would have kept along that path. It would have found out what happens as sound comes limping imperfectly, dangerously into the world of a performer who has never had use for it nor knowledge of how to use it to effect. But then we wouldn’t have needed so many tricks from the dog.