Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Artist? Really?


I pursed my lips quite tightly when Micheal Douglas presented the Best Director Oscar 2012 to Michael Hazanavicius, the man who made The Artist, a supposed paean to the era of silent cinema. Now, trust me, I have no problems over who wins Oscars. And I’m not being a contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. I watched it much earlier at a film festival and ever since I’ve been whistling in the wind about its non-existent brilliance. What really gets my goat is the way The Artist is being celebrated as a work of auteur.

Look at two of the other nominations for best director, Terence Malick and Martin Scorsese, and if celebration of cinema was really on top of the Academy’s agenda they should have gone for either of these two. Malick’s Tree Of Life combines Darwinism and coming-of-the-age American movie ethic to produce something that’s absolutely splendid. Scorsese, who directed Hugo, paid a bigger tribute to cinema through his cinematic homage to Georges Méliès, a forgotten filmmaker of the silent era.

I can see why The Artist won such wide recognition. At a time when death of irony is a foregone conclusion and cynicism reigns supreme, The Artist is the most uncynical movie of the recent times. It poses questions that are not uncomfortable. Yes, technology killed the romance of cinema and we are all guilty. But, hey, no one’s neck is on the guillotine. After all, as that cliche goes, change is the only constant in life. Pardon the digression and let’s look at the paint-by-numbers premise of the film. A successful silent-film hyphenate (Jean Dujardin) finds himself at sea once the industry transitions into the talkies and he is stuck in a rut. An ingenue (Berenice Bejo) who solicits his affection is suddenly sought after but not unlike a hooker in the movies, she too has a golden heart and still pines for Dujardin, who lost everything except a poodle and a chauffeur.

It still beats me how such a prosciutto-thin plot wasn’t strangled at the time of conception itself. Keeping in line with this slush is the pouting and one-dimensional acting of Dujardin, who apart from tilting his head, does nothing. Buster Keaton, the George Clooney of silent cinema with more talent, will roll in his grave looking at the way Hazanavicius distilled silent cinema into juiceless technicolor condescending garbage. Here’s what The Economist had to say about Dujardin’s pouting, “He mugs on screen, he mugs at the breakfast table. He operates in only one highly stylised mode of performance, making it impossible to tell the artist from his art.”

It still beats me how the Academy never gave two hoots about India’s Harischandrachi Factory, a far more nuanced look at silent cinema through the prism of that genius called Dadasaheb Phalke. This year, the Academy safely ignored the best movies, which I know is a relative term, like Drive, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter etc., In this entire fracas, here’s what takes the cake: Cesar Awards are the French equivalent of Oscars and they gave the best actor award to Omar Sy for his relentlessly charming role in Intouchables.

1 Comments:

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