Leaving the cinema there was some debate over whether this is a reactionary film or not. In difficult times, the public takes succour in escapism. A film about silent cinema becomes an unlikely success as we look for anything to take our mind off recession and the collapse of Western capitalism. Into the breach steps a tale from a time when stars were stars and cinema was simpler.
I could buy this argument, but I’d like to offer the counterpoint. Hazanavicius’s film instead compels us to revisit a brief, golden time when the filmmaker’s message wasn’t sullied by language. When the image was paramount. It could almost be seen as a tribute to Derrida. We revisit a less forensic, cynical age, when delight in the image was still permitted to flourish and watching cinema was akin to stepping on the Moon. In this regard it would appear to have something in common with Scorsese’s Hugo, albeit The Artist is a more satisfying, witty film than the old master’s.
So I’m not convinced that The Artist, no matter how enjoyable, is all that escapist. It’s more of a paean to those things we have lost than an invitation to bask in the delights of what we have. Perhaps that’s why it’s weirdly moving. Valentine is a man out of time, losing touch with the world that is to come. A feeling that all of us are constantly condemned to repeat in this hyper-technological age, forever one step behind whatever is just about to emerge and turn the world around again.
I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to have lived a normal life before the invention of the printing press. If you didn’t speak Latin or live in a monastery. Were minds less rich for the lack of information? Did the intellect not sing its own song still in whatever form it took? The Artist reminds us that for all our so-called sophistication, we’re still susceptible to those things which have shaped human perception since before time began. Things such as the other and the heart. And dogs.