Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in this year’s Oscar-sweeping silent film.
It's the 1920s in Hollywood, and silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the peak of his powers. Dishing out one success after another and flanked by adoring fans wherever he goes, he's the darling of the studio and its boss, Al Zimmer (John Goodman).
Among his adoring supporters is the plucky Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who, after an impromptu encounter with the star, decides to audition as an extra for his upcoming film.
Despite being (un)happily married, George begins to fall for his micro-co-star's naïve charm.
But as the silent era begins to give way to 'talkies' - and as Peppy jumps on the sound-enhanced bandwagon while George's career is under threat - the star comes face to face with a real crisis.
This is the rather simple, fluffy and very melodramatic story that gripped the Academy this year. Of course, the fact that The Artist's charmingly old-fashioned story is delivered in the silent film format it pastiches so well must have contributed to the fact that it swept away nearly all of the significant Oscars last February - Best Picture included.
I will go out on a limb to say that while the competition may not have been great - and that certainly, being a silent film automatically gives some indirectly 'experimental' edge - The Artist is hardly anything to write home about in terms of dramatic heft. Just like Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (also an Oscar-favourite this year), it's pull is in being easy, amusing and effortlessly charming. There's nothing much beyond the surface, and as one black-and-white shot dissolves smoothly into another, director Michel Hazanavicius appears to be fine with that.
This doesn't, however, mean that the film does not boast a kind of perfection.
First of all, the leading duo are perfectly cast. Clearly channelling Fred Astaire, Dujardin oozes charisma, his sly smile and kind eyes working hard to channel the charm of a bygone era. He is complemented - and for large sections of the film, outclassed - by the infectious Bejo. The young actress - who happens to be Hazanavicius's wife - could very well be set for international stardom, as there's something of Audrey Tatou's Amelie about her breezy, sweet-but-not-saccharine manner.
While less dazzling leads would certainly have ruined this ambitious production, making a silent film palatable to modern-day audiences is no mean feat either. Hazanavicius and co. deserve their raft-load of Oscars precisely for pulling this off behind the audience's back. Apart from the self-evident charm of the period details, the silent movie gimmick and even a cute dog, the film hangs together beautifully.
Its film - within - several - films structure helps frame our attention and suspend disbelief, and there are a couple of clever-clever uses of sound and silence that make it clear to us that the lauded director knows what he's doing.
But apart from all that, what you'll probably enjoy the most about The Artist is that it does everything in its power to roll smoothly along, and it instantly seduces you to come along with it. Perhaps this touch of cinematic magic is the real reason why this French production scooped up all the awards that mattered at this year's Oscar ceremony in Hollywood.
One thing the film isn't though, is a little French film that could. Helped along by not just a smattering of Hollywood stars - led by John Goodman - but also by uber-producer Harvey Weinstein and Warner Bros, the production certainly had some help along the way.
But if its success means that we'll be getting more silent films in the near future, I myself welcome it with open arms.