By the time you read this, The Artist should have made its way to more local cinemas, and it’s about time. For those of you who might put off seeing it because “it’s silent” or “it’s in black and white,” all I can say is that you would be missing one of the more enchanting pictures of the year—and all the pleasures that the film has to offer. Michel Haznavicus’ loving homage to silent cinema—and old-style romance, uses music and well-placed sound effects to tell the tale of swashbuckling silent star George Valentin (winningly played by Jean Dujardin as a cross between Douglas Fairbanks and Gene Kelly) whose star falls as he tries to resist the coming of sound, and Peppy Miller (warmly portrayed by Beatrice Bejo) a dancer whose star rises with the advent of talkies. Valentin and Miller are drawn to each other, but life gets in the way-specifically his marriage, his pride (namely, his disastrous decision to finance a downbeat silent starring vehicle for himself), the changing times-- and her own resounding cinematic success. Yet they never stop thinking about—and caring for each other, and you will pull for them to get together despite the odds—I know I did, and judging from the applause at the end, so did my fellow moviegoers. While you can probably guess some of the plot points The Artist will hit (especially those with some knowledge of film lore and A Star is Born), this is ultimately an upbeat, buoyant romance with very appealing performances all the way down the line, including James Cromwell as Valentin’s ever-faithful employee and John Goodman’s huffing studio boss; a lovely score by Ludovic Bource (with assists from period composers—and Bernard Herrmann in a pivotal scene); gorgeous black and white cinematography by Giullaume Schiffman, and above all Jean Dujardin and Beatrice Bejo, the two beguiling leads who help turn what might have been an academic exercise into a heartfelt exploration of the fleeting nature of fame—and the redemptive power of love. Heck, I’d love to see it again.
Motion picture fame is also at the forefront of My Week with Marilyn, a bittersweet behind the scenes look at the making of The Prince and the Showgirl-which itself had been a slight (though some might say ponderous) romance directed by Laurence Olivier and starring Olivier-and Marilyn Monroe. These events are viewed through the idealistic eyes of that film’s assistant director Colin Clark, who had the enviable task of looking after Miss Monroe—especially after her newlywed husband Arthur Miller, left Britain to return home for a spell. Kenneth Branagh makes a terrific Olivier, capturing not only his imperious nature—which is rendered helpless in the face of his mercurial co-star, and her overly attentive-not to say indulgent acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker, oozing seemingly sympathetic venom), but also the insecurity of a man who knows he’s a supreme actor but longs to be a movie star. Julia Ormond is a lovely Vivien Leigh in her few moments on screen, nailing not only the fragility of her beauty, but a temperament that knows her hold on her husband is tenuous at best. Eddie Redmayne does a good job as Colin ambitious, idealistic, and somewhat callow starstruck youth who manages to (temporarily) win Miss Monroe’s affections with his the diligence of his attentions—while neglecting a lovely, albeit ordinary colleague (Emma Watson). Yet in the end, a film like My Week with Marilyn rises or falls with its Marilyn—and Michelle Williams doesn’t disappoint. I admit I was a little apprehensive, but Williams makes for a superb Monroe: flirtatious, fun-loving, all too aware of her effect on the opposite sex, more than a little calculating, and more than a little vulnerable: having surrounded herself with sycophants, high-powered studio types and intellectuals, her sense of inferiority keeps spilling over to the surface. Williams-as Monroe-projects the antithesis of Branagh’s Olivier—as she is the movie star who yearns to be considered an actress. The “scenes within the movie” allow Miss Williams to recreate Monroe’s cinematic appeal—a a certain “something”that made directors want to work with her despite her somewhat exasperating behavior, not the least of which was legendary tardiness. It is a lovely performance in an intelligent, most entertaining movie.