This is a turnup for the books. A new silent feature film by French director Michel Hazanavicius has been added to the competition lineup for this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Artist (2011), starring John Goodman, is a silent, black-and-white, 1.33:1 film about the demise of a silent star’s career during the arrival of sound – and it will be competing with titles including Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia for the prestigious Palme d’Or prize.
There’s no confirmed UK release date for The Artist yet, but this news would suggest that we’ll see it sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, your correspondent is not a Cannes delegate, but I will be keeping track of the reviews coming back from the festival, and of course, hoping that this film does justice to the era we love. The 20 films in competition include work by Aki Kaurismaki, Pedro Almodovar, Lynne Ramsay and the Dardenne brothers. Still, wouldn’t it be something if a silent film won the Palme d’Or in 2011?
People who have seen Hazanavicius’s previous films – the retro OSS-117 spy capers – say he has a sure touch with period detail. His first film, La Classe Américaine, was actually a redubbed collage of extracts from the Warner Bros archive, so it’s reasonable to assume he knows his film history. The question is whether The Artist can avoid pastiche, and satisfy silent film fans as much as the wider audience – let alone the judges at Cannes. Goodman is joined in the cast by Hollywood veteran James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller, who you might remember played Edna Purviance in Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin biopic.
UPDATE: The Artist has been bought at Cannes by the Weinstein Company. The Weinsteins are saying “Oscar season release”, which we should perhaps take with a pinch of salt, not least because it means quite a long wait until we see the film in the UK. Talking about Oscars raises other questions, though. Would they be angling for a nomination for Best Picture or Best Picture in a Foreign Language? Will the intertitles be translated or subtitled outside France? Still, it’s definitely a vote of confidence in the film, and let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
You can watch some extracts here. Yes the interviews with the director and actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are in French, but as you’ll see, the language barrier is no obstacle for the clips, which demonstrate a sophisticated visual approach to film-making. From the evidence here, The Artist definitely has more than a flavour of late 1920s Hollywood, using dance and humour rather than dialogue to tell its story. Bejo talks about: “un rapport tres sensuel entre le spectateur et l’histoire”, which seems to sum it up rather well.
The Artist screens at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday 15 May.
And The Artist isn’t the only silent film screening at Cannes this year. Hugely excitingly, the festival will also host a screening of George Méliès’s La Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) – like you’ve never seen it before. A nitrate print of the elusive hand-painted colour version of the film was discovered in Barcelona in 1993 and has been salvaged, frame by frame, by Lobster Films, Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema and Technicolor Foundation for Heritage Cinema. The beautiful film will be premiered at Cannes with a score by the dreamy French band Air. As soon as I hear about a chance to see this new version in London, you’ll be the very next people to know.