WOW! That was my initial reaction after seeing "The Artist" the first time. I say the first time because it was so good, it warranted a second look.


Just so we are clear, "The Artist" is a mostly silent film. For 95% of the film only the soundtrack is heard; just like the original silent films of the yesteryear.


It stars Jean Dujardin as fictitious film star George Valentin. He is the embodiment of Rudolph Valentino - handsome, suave, and a real ladies man. He stars in various genre's but mostly films that feature action and a wink of an eye. he is a big hot for his boss, the studio owner All Zimmer (John Goodman).

But there is a new technology around the corner - talkies; films with sound. Valentin is not convinced that talkies will succeed whereas Zimmer is convinced this is the future.


Zimmer begins casting for talkies; more importantly he makes a star out of a young lady whom Valentin discovered - Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). Peppy is cute, bubbly and smitten on Valentin - but she is also success driven and soon becomes the next big star - like a Lillian Gish.


Peppy makes the transition to talkies and Valentin is soon forgotten.


I dare not say much more about the film save that it is both a love story and the story of a man who loses his own identity when times change.

It is, an age old story and one that shows up this year - in one form or another - in several films including "Hugo" which also is released today and also has themes referring to the silent era.


To be sure though, "The Artist" does the one thing that the silent era films did: it engages the audience. It demands that you pay attention to the screen, not the bang and the boom. It forces you to look at the nuances of the actors mannerisms, body language and facial expressions.


Director Michel Hazanavicius has created an absolutely gorgeous film completely in black and white, again recalling that the greatest films made had no color. "Casablanca", "Citizen Kane", "On the Waterfront" "It's a Wonderful Life", Psycho", "Sunset Boulevard", etc were all in black and white. In "The Artist" he recaptures the art of shades of gray. Tones representing colors and forcing you to imagine those colors.


Next Hazanavicius capture the era with spectacular costuming that will surely be considered for awards. And finally, his casting is perfect. Dujardin was already awarded best actor at Cannes and you can look for further recognition in Hollywood.

Berenice Bejo is adorable as Peppy, from her era-matching haircut to the wink of her eyes. Even John Goodman is perfect as the studio boss. He looks like he's having fun as does James Cromwell and the rest of the cast. Each and every one, plays off the other perfectly; each one showing their own acting chops. The ending, is terrific and the only way the film could end. Like any great film, the entire movie sets up the final scene.


A black and white mostly silent movie, filmed in Hollywood by a Frenchman. Who would have guessed? The moments of sound... a scene gleaned from "Pleasantville" only using sound instead of color.


"The Artist" is at or near the front of the line for best film of the year. Period. It is the film every movie buff should see, every acting student should see. Every film student must see. It reminds us that once upon a time making a movie was an art and not just an cheap effect.   -- GEOFF BURTON