Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Artist

(France/Belgium, 2011)

I loved it. From the first frame right up to the end. But does it deserve its Best Picture Oscar? Well, I can’t say right now, because I haven’t seen all of them. It’s the best of the ones I have seen. And from what I know of those I haven’t seen, I don’t think it’s likely this one will be pushed aside in my ranking. A lot of the others sound reasonably good, but if nothing else, this movie deserves the recognition it’s been getting because of something I value a lot: its willingness to take big risks. A silent film? In black and white? Starring no one you’ve ever heard of? A Frenchman, no less? But it is a labor of love. There was another risk-taking film this year, The Tree of Life, and while I applaud it, it wasn’t entirely successful in its broad and lofty goals. This one was, in its more modest intent.

I’ve been amused by the ongoing controversy, here and in France, as to whether or not this is a French film. There is a big irony here, because apparently of all the nine nominated films, this is the only one shot entirely in Los Angeles! But the real irony, to me, is that the wonderful thing about silent movies is that it doesn’t matter. Silent movies are the closest we’ve ever come to a universal language. They can come from anywhere, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, you name it. All you have to do is change the title cards, and in the best silent movies there won’t be a lot of those. No subtitles to read, no foreign language to listen to. Even the cast doesn’t have to have a common language (which was good for The Artist, as Jean Dujardin doesn’t seem to have much English). So, French, American … who cares? It’s the first big movie to be made in that universal language since Mel BrooksSilent Movie in 1976, or going back even further, Charlie Chaplin‘s Modern Times in