The run-away freight-train at last Sunday's Oscar ceremony was a silent, black and white film starring a bunch of French people no one on this side of the pond has ever heard of. THE ARTIST took best actor, best picture and best director.
The Oscars are irresistible to me. They are an issue of April Vanity Fair and September Vogue rolled into one. When the incredibly dashing Jean Dujardin, oozing Gallic charm and twinkle out of every pore leaped onto the stage and thanked both his partner (a woman) and his wife, I thought: " how bad can 90 minutes in a dark room on a rainy afternoon possibly be, if spent in the company of this man?" Besides, he beat both George Clooney (!) and Brad Pitt (!) and that is quite something.
Jean Dujardin ( channelling Douglas Fairbanks) plays Georges Valentin, a dashing, vain, handsome silent film star who has coasted by on charm and a great repertoire of hamminess until 1929 wipes out both his investments and his career with the advent of talking pictures.
It is the great gift of Dujardin's performance that he makes a selfish asshole a likable and sympathetic guy. It's no mean feat.
I'm not going to spoil the plot here, but the director is 45 and the film is a vehicle for his (at least 10 years younger) wife. The lovely and talented Berenice Bejo plays an ingenue who becomes a star and saves the dissolute Georges Valentin from himself, his pride, his wounded ego, his solipsism and the bottle. In short, it is another story about a man having a mid-life crisis being rescued by a younger, richer, prettier and more successful woman. As they say in French: "reve on colour", which means "dream in Technicolour". This is "Pretty Woman" for middle-aged men and at the height of a recession when way more women than men are working, I'm sure this story resonated for a lot of people.
As the appropriately named Peppy Miller, Bejo reminded me in face and manner of a young Lesley Caron. She's delightful, but saving arrogant drunks from their own foibles is a mug's game as anyone who has ever tried it can tell you.
The film is a loving homage to old movies and I can see why the Academy fell head over heels for it. Under all that lovely marzipan, especially the end musical number is a story that for this viewer is an old and poisonous fairy tale. You can't save anyone who doesn't want to be saved. I enjoyed it, as long as I didn't think too hard about the story.
THE ARTIST speaks one great truth: if you want unquestioning loyalty, no matter how badly you behave to those who care for you or how far your fortunes fall, get a dog.