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Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Bitsie Tulloch, Ed Lauter, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Filmed in black and white, and almost totally silent, this is a sweet and clever idea, which only becomes a trifle wearing before picking up again towards the end. Considerable cinematic skill is involved in telling its story of a debonair, funny silent film star in the Douglas Fairbanks tradition (Dujardin) whom we meet at his peak in a 1927 Hollywood strictly of the writers' imagination.
Enormously popular in devil-may-care action roles, George Valentin shares the spotlight with his dog (the talented Uggy) whom he likes to be with on stage in preference to his latest glamorous co-star.
Posing for pictures one day, George encounters gamine Peppy Miller (the appealing Bejo, real-life wife of the director) when she drops her purse, and we then follow Peppy as she climbs the film ladder (amusingly billed as Pepi in her first role before filmmakers learn how to spell it). She reaches the top in 1929, just as sound comes in, and George is told by his director (Goodman) that he's finished.
Whether this is because he may be French, like his portrayer (we're never told), or mulishly resistant to the changing times, isn't clear; otherwise it seems a rather abrupt and unlikely development, even if entirely necessary to the plot.
At any rate, George makes a final silent, which flops, and spirals into alcoholic decline. Peppy maintains contact off and on and tries to help. But George must soon sell his possessions after his rich wife (Miller) leaves him, and even has to fire his long-serving chauffeur/manservant (Cromwell).
It does seem as if we're headed for a tragic ending unsuited to the light-as-air treatment, but the director and writers have a cheeky surprise up their sleeves.
The film's a genuine original, full of visual flair, and with an effervescent performance from Dujardin: its best scene is his nightmare in which he's surrounded by voices, sound effects and his dog barking, while he himself is still silent. It is, however, an exercise in highly effective style, rather than an accurate portrait of its era.
France/USA 2011. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Black and white.
99 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.
Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.
Review date: 25 Dec 2011