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“The Artist,” reviewed

“The Artist,” reviewed (photo)

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In the classic film “Singin’ in the Rain,” directors Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly examined Hollywood’s transition from silent to sound cinema from the perspective of the winners; actors like Kelly’s Don Lockwood, who successfully survived the advent of the talkies. In the new romantic drama “The Artist,” director Michel Hazanavicius reimagines that same journey from the perspective of the losers, men like Jean Dujardin‘s George Valentin, who were left behind when Al Jolson belted out his first onscreen tune in “The Jazz Singer.” While “Singin’ in the Rain” used the formal language of the musical to celebrate everything that the movies gained with sound, “The Artist” cleverly uses the language of silent cinema to remind us of what the movies lost, namely the magic of pure visual storytelling.

Dujardin is the film’s impossibly handsome and charismatic star, a Douglas Fairbanks-esque matinee idol. As “The Artist” begins, he’s presenting the premiere of his new adventure picture, “A Russian Affair.” The film within the film is clearly silent, but it’s not immediately obvious that “The Artist” is too. It opens with a packed house enjoying “A Russian Affair” while a full orchestra plays an accompanying score. It’s only when the movie palace audience bursts into ecstatic applause — and we hear absolutely nothing on the soundtrack — that we understand the extent of Hazanavicius’ devotion to the silent film form.

At the premiere, George has a chance encounter with an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), and still more chance pairs George and Peppy together in George’s next film (this one’s titled “A German Affair”). Their chemistry is instant and obvious in a wonderful scene where George, the superstar, is supposed to casually dance with Peppy, the lowly extra, as he navigates a crowded dance floor. George spoils take after take, enchanted by Peppy’s beauty and distracted by her touch. Again, there’s no dialogue, but Dujardin and Bejo tell us everything we need to know through gestures and body language. A few helpful cutaways to the production’s clapperboard do the rest of the work.

George’s boss at Kinograph Studios (John Goodman) believes that talking pictures are the future. Peppy embraces sound and rises from chorus girl to household name; George rejects sound and suffers a precipitous fall, foolishly sinking his fortune into an ominously titled silent epic called “Tears of Love.” If George wasn’t crying before he got the box office results…

George’s arc is sad but “The Artist” is nevertheless an exuberant movie. The key to its success is the way Hazanavicius turns silent cinema’s restrictions into opportunities for the sort of whimsical gestures that modern movies rarely allow. After George and Peppy share their dance on the set of “A German Affair” she goes looking for him in his dressing room. Finding it empty, she stops and admires his tuxedo jacket, and as she tries it on, it magically comes to life, embracing her as she imagines what it might feel like in George’s arms. In a sound film, Peppy would no doubt explain her feelings for her co-star to a plucky sidekick (and the audience). The silent approach is, in this case, far more economical and far more powerful.

I’m not sure cameos from the likes of Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, and others add anything to the film beyond unnecessary distractions and George’s cold, shrewish wife (Penelope Ann Miller) is an unfortunate mix of convenience and “Citizen Kane” homages. An argument could also be made that the film’s ending is thematically inappropriate to Hazanavicius’ “Singin’ in the Rain” counter-narrative. But I don’t think the director is eulogizing silent cinema as much as he’s mythologizing the true artists of the Hollywood dream factory, and that makes George and Peppy’s final fate the only sensible one. He’s paying tribute to those great old crowd pleasers by making one of his own, while reminding us that silent films aren’t inferior to sound ones, just a little different.

“The Artist” opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. If you see it, tell us what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…