A crowd-pleaser in competition? What sacrilege! That was the message from some of the more highbrow critics after this morning’s competition screening of The Artist, a silent comedy about silent film-making in Hollywood from French director Michel Hazanavicius. It is just a pastiche, said one critic, and should not be in competition. It is not serious enough, said another.
It’s ludicrous of course that Cannes competition should not contain superb cinematic works like The Artist, a joyful comic experiment that had the audience in the Salle Lumiere roaring with laughter and genuine delight. Hazanavicius teams up with his 0SS 117 star Jean Dujardin who is truly one of the bright acting lights of French cinema to create a memorable piece about a silent movie star who falls foul of the sound revolution in the late 1920s. Berenice Bejo, Hazanavicius’ real-life wife, plays a wannabe starlet who is in love with Dujardin and becomes a huge star because of sound just as his fame is waning.
Despite the presence of celebrated US actors like John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle and Penelope Ann Miller, the film belongs to Dujardin and Bejo and of course Hazanavicius who uses the silent nature of the piece to great effect, making the audience focus on the performance, visual compositions and music in a way with which we are not usually familiar.
The Weinstein Company - their logo already emblazoned on the film - bought a slew of rights on the film including North America and UK before it screened, signalling a market belief in the commercial appeal of the film. They made a smart move.
Last night, critics watched The Kid With A Bike, the latest film by the Dardenne Brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc. Now this is a film that you expect to find in Cannes competition and it’s superb in different, although not necessarily more worthy, ways than The Artist.
Actually I much preferred this one to their last Cannes competitor Lorna’s Silence (2008). It’s a heartrending tale about an abandoned 12 year-old boy called Cyril (a fantastic performance by Thomas Doret) desperate to find the father (Jeremie Renier) who left him in a children’s home who is taken in by a hairdresser called Samantha (Cecile De France) on weekends.
I really admired their storytelling in The Kid With A Bike. They are forensic in ensuring that every scene helps to tell the story, with no wastage or flab. The characterisations are also incredibly precise so you start to care about the people almost immediately and feel like you know them by the film’s end a mere 87 minutes later.
It was also touching to see a cameo by Olivier Gourmet, who won the best actor prize at Cannes for The Son and appeared in all the other Dardenne films. Blink and you’ll miss him.
With The Artist and The Kid With A Bike, some critics finally found films they could rave about and at Screen Mark Adams and Jonathan Romney respectively awarded them four stars.
It’s rewarding to see such diverse styles in competition (pompous old critics, you are wrong about The Artist) and thrilling to see such exhilerating films.