The Royal Albert Hall drew 2013 to a close with the stunning UK première of The Artist: Live in Concert. With the London Symphony Orchestra led by Ernst Van Tiel and the films Oscar award-winning composer Ludovic Bource (pictured below) in attendance, it proved to be a magical affair. The festive ambience of a crisp December night in London provided the perfect backdrop for this special event.
The hallowed Hall was a fitting venue for such a wonderful night with a capacity crowd all eager to witness this spectacle in such unique surroundings. The live music was superlative and added a new dimension to the film. Being a silent movie, this set-up proved to be an apt homage to the unfolding story with the orchestra providing near-faultless performances throughout.
Photo credit: David Parry/PA Wire
Having the film run in sync with the music was an impressive feat that drew rapturous applause at the end and left no doubt amongst the audience that this was the most successful live-film event ever staged at the Royal Albert Hall.
As for the film itself? Well, Michel Hazanavicius’ masterpiece has lost none of its beguiling magic.
It’s 1927 and silent-movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin – Monuments Men) is enjoying considerable fame and fortune. He has a chance encounter with a film extra named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo – Populaire) and the two instantly hit it off. But as Peppy slowly rises to prominence in Hollywood, the advent of talking pictures marks an uncertain future for Valentin as he faces up to the prospect of fading into obscurity.
It would seem that the art of storytelling is not dead after all. The Artist is a simply mesmerizing homage to a bygone era that perfectly blends drama, romance, humour and spectacle to form a truly breathtaking piece of work. It also achieves a quite remarkable feat – it tells a wholly relevant and contemporary story but sets it during the golden era of Hollywood.
Photo credit: Jason Palmer/Entertainment Focus
The film looks sumptuous in every frame. The attention to detail is outstanding, the tone is perfectly balanced and the backdrops are startlingly accurate. It has a strong visual identity that oozes quality and affection in every frame, from George’s palatial home through to the backstage lots of the studio. But The Artist is so much more than just a beautiful picture. It’s remarkably intelligent in its pacing and structure and manages to draw amazing performances from everyone involved.
Jean Dujardin hands in the performance of a lifetime as George Valentin, the most famous silent actor of his generation. He personifies charm and grace with every expression and movement he makes. A man high on life and enjoying his celebrity lifestyle to the fullest – it’s an easy sell with Dujardin on this kind of form. His slow demise is handled wonderfully and never overplayed either. He never overcompensates with the lack of dialogue and instead uses his physicality to convey what words simply cannot.
Dujardin is matched by Bérénice Bejo’s savvy portrayal of Peppy Miller, Hollywood’s new sweetheart. The parallels between her rise to stardom and Valentin’s fall from favour are subtle and effective but never melodramatic. Their obvious chemistry is handled well by writer/director Michel Hazanavicius and always leaves us wanting more. They both nail the balance of humour too – The Artist is a very funny film when it wants to be and both leads work hard to make this work so convincingly. Dujardin and Bejo make a truly classic onscreen couple and are a joy to watch.
The film is blessed with assured supporting roles from the likes of James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Malcolm McDowell. The pick of this remarkable ensemble though is John Goodman who excels as Zimmer, the head of the film studio. There is also a truly spectacular (and cute) dog on show named Uggie that will bring a broad smile to your face every time he appears. Kudos to Dujardin for making this part of the film so engaging and sweet too… any scenes involving Valentin and his dog are just fantastic.
For a mostly silent film, sound plays a pivotal role in The Artist which is why the Royal Albert Hall shows were such a resounding success. From its vibrant, energetic score to a jarring dream sequence that first introduces the audience to incidental sound, The Artist is a film that playfully dances with convention and your senses. It’s an emotional experience that pulls you deep into Valentin’s world and makes you work for your narrative. It’s a timely reminder of how filmmaking used to operate and what it asked of its audience. Today’s blockbusters should take note of The Artist and its ability to engage without the need for prerequisite bells and whistles.
A sublime joy from start to finish, The Artist is a movie that charms throughout. With Oscar laced performances from Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo and assured writing and direction from Michel Hazanavicius, this is a project that warms the heart and leaves you dizzy with excitement. Stunning in every way, The Artist is a captivating experience, a classic masterpiece and easily the best live film experience you’re likely to get.
With Gladiator and both Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness heading to The Royal Albert Hall in 2014, it’s sure to be another magical season for anyone lucky enough to attend.
For more information check out the official Royal Albert Hall website.