The great secret of film appreciation is that silent movies are generally no fun. They're medicine. Homework. Caveman-style works you have to force yourself to sit through just to be able to tell yourself and others that you've done the time in order to build credibility. There are exceptions to the rule, but in general, even the greatest silent movies -- the comedies by Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd -- are easier to appreciate and analyze than enjoy.
Along comes The Artist to demolish that line of thinking. A masterwork from writer-director Michel Hazanavicius, it presents silent film as a valid modern entertainment medium by using the construct as a device to comment on film history. Although his story is nothing spectacular -- basically a reworking of the A Star is Born mold -- the eloquence and artistry with which he delivers his film steal the show.
His actors take on the exaggerated styles of their cinematic ancestors, exaggerating emotions and gestures in order to spark the audience's imagination, much like well-written descriptive writing. Jean Dujardin is superb as a stand-in for Rudolph Valentino, a silent star who sinks into the figurative quicksand of changing times. Berenice Bejo is his equal, as an up-and-coming flapper who winds her way to success, only to suffer internally as her former idol falls. John Goodman, as a high-powered tycoon, and James Cromwell, as a dignified assistant and driver, effortlessly fall in to supporting roles, lending a solemn regality to the proceedings.
The Artist is a spectacular achievement and a bold new direction in filmmaking. Instead of cheering, I'll keep my mouth shut and give a silent nod of approval.