As a man sliding down the far side of middle age I can relate to the struggles of George Valentin, an aging silent film star portrayed in the 2011 hit movie “The Artist”. Like many older men, Valentin is faced with the sudden and surprisingly life-changing effects of technology.
He is an icon of the film industry in the late 1920s. The world is his oyster. Then, the studios decide to start making “talkies”.
Valentin doesn’t take the new genre seriously. He thinks “talkies” are a passing fancy.
What he thinks doesn’t matter, though. His bosses rightly believe that sound pictures are the wave of the future and Valentin is out of a job.
For Valentin, the solution is to produce his own film with him as the star. However, it bombs completely.
His movie loses out big time at the box office to the “talkie” starring a young former female protege of his. Peppy Miller is charismatic and beautiful and is now the “cat’s meow”.
If you are older and less captivating than the competition in your workplace, you can surely relate to Valentin’s dilemma with Peppy. While he too is energized by her allure, he finds that she is indeed stealing his thunder.
I once was a trainer in a corporation. I wasn’t aged then, but I was at least 10 years older the female colleague I taught a course with once.
A fellow female trainer pulled me over after the course. She told me that this girl had lit up the room while I had…well, you can guess.
This self-appointed guru suggested in so many words that I was in the wrong line of work. I was humble about it outwardly, but inside I was seething.
“The Artist” does an excellent job of revealing the impact of becoming a has been and nobody. This is a common malady of the soon-to-be senior citizen of any generation.
Twenty some years after my corporate training debacle, I find myself facing unemployment like Mr. V in this flick. I have had three major interviews this autumn in which my credentials seemed to shine. However, I get the impression, having not been offered any of the positions, that the employer deemed me to be a worn out old fossil.
Valentin becomes depressed over his economic, social and relational losses. Despite the efforts of his former chauffeur and, increasingly, the now famous Peppy Miller, Valentin sinks further into a sinkhole. (Interestingly enough, this state is foreshadowed in a scene from his own silent movie production in which he disappears into quicksand!)
Just in the nick of time, when all seems lost for Valentin, his devoted Peppy comes to the rescue. She figures out how to resurrect George’s career.
“The Artist” has a lot going for it. The movie itself is filmed in an anachronistic way, with lots of silence and in black and white.
Furthermore, Berenice Bejo is aptly cast as the enchanting Peppy Miller. In comparison to the rather droll Jean Dujardin, who portrayed Valentin, she stands out.
Of course, I believe the film’s producers intended this contrast. Considering that Durjardin is only four years Bejo’s senior, the makeup people of “The Artist” probably also deserve some kudos!
Dog lovers will appreciate the faithful friend status of Valentin’s Jack Russell terrier. The canine star Uggie, himself rescued from a dog pound in real life, literally saves Valentin.
One down note in “The Artist” is the casual way it treats the relationship between Valentin and Miller. While it is not clear if there is a physical relationship between the two, there definitely is an emotional affair going on.
Valentin is married and the sparks between him and Peppy contribute to the death of his marriage. Of course, the silent actor’s reversal of fortunes didn’t help either.
If you are a person of faith like me, the apathy with which the script deals with this dalliance may offend you. Otherwise, you’ll find “The Artist” to be a worthy and quality film.
For me, that there is a solution to Valentin’s dilemma with technology and ageism was inspiring. I admit to being something of a Ludite these days, so anything that motivates me to keep staying ahead of the young whippersnappers with their impossible to use I phones is a winner to me.