This slender, slight film seems destined to pick up quite a few Oscars, and by the time you’re reading this, it probably has. I can see why. Even from the synopsis alone, you can tell it’s Oscar bait. A film about a silent movie star who fails to make the leap to talkies, and finds his career coming to a standstill while the girl he helped make it to the big screen overtakes him as the biggest talking movie star on the planet. And it’s predominantly silent, and in black and white.
But amidst the nominations and general public furore, a few things seem have been failed to be mentioned. For one thing, it isn’t a very deep film at all. Aside from getting the plot from A to B then back to A again, it does very little. The likability of its main character, Georges Valentin (Jean Dujardin) remains debatable. It doesn’t appear to have anything to say of any great value. It’s fun, and quite charming, but that’s the beginning and the end of it.
Perhaps my biggest problem with it was that, strictly speaking, it wasn’t a silent film. It was far too much like a normal film where the sound has been removed, and it didn’t have half as much of the charm of an actual silent film. I wouldn’t count it as a silent film, just a film lacking in sound, and to anyone who’s seen a silent film there’s a huge difference between the two.
I mentioned the likability of its main character, because, well, I didn’t. But I got the sense that for this film to completely work, I should have done. He seemed smug, conceited, and I didn’t really connect with him on an emotional level. This failure to connect spread throughout the whole film, a pervading sense of disinterest that led to me, well, not really caring.
Don’t get me wrong: when you compare this to the contrived, blockbusters which clog our multiplexes, this stands head and shoulders above them. It cares about films, about how you make them, what goes into the making of them, and what it means to be a filmmaker. It is quite likable, and it has the best cinematic dog since the one in Beginners. It does occasionally resort to cliché, but no more than your average film, and above all, it has a soul, but little charm.
Ultimately I felt at a sort of crossroads with the film: I liked it, it was quite enjoyable, but it was nowhere near as good as you suspect it could have been, and it had too many elements that detracted from it for me to fully embrace it. It had some truly excellent touches, such as the dream where every sound is audible aside from Valentin’s voice, and already it has attained the status as one of those films you “need” to see to be taken seriously as a film-goer.
But to call it a masterpiece, the film of the year, and nominate it for 10 Oscars? There, I feel, the novelty and hype ran away with itself.