From the archive
The plot line is a bit schematic, resolute in its avoidance of swerves and complications. A new movie star is born, an old star fades. Time passes, technology rules, the talkies are here. Still, there are plenty of twists and nuances in Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist, and the plot feels really dogged only when it takes its pathos too seriously, inviting us to invest all our sympathy in the silent star stranded by the new system. This man is too diligently sorry for himself to leave much room for our participation… Peppy’s rescue of Valentin is the climax of a love story, of course. The star-struck girl achieves fame of her own but is still attracted to her old idol, grateful for the advice he gave her, for his kindness to her. Nothing wrong with any of this, but both roles are too abstract and readymade to permit any intensity or warmth in the story if it’s supposed to be about human beings. What lingers in the mind, what creates actual emotion, has to do with the cinema, arises from the interplay of the abstractions. Without Peppy, Valentin is a moment in the movies that can have no legacy or afterlife. What she loves in him is this moment. She won’t let go of it, because she grandly and improbably believes the movies can’t be what they should be if they forget what they once were.