French director Michel Hazanavicius takes a break from his OSS 117
spy spoofs to pay loving tribute to the silent cinema, re-creating its luminous black-and-white photography and consigning all the dialogue to intertitles. The story is a variation on that timeless movieland myth A Star Is Born
: Jean Dujardin plays a Hollywood matinee idol whose career unravels with the advent of the sound era, and Berenice Bejo is a bit player who ascends into the stratosphere once actors become prized for their gab. No big-time commercial filmmaker has tried anything like this since Mel Brooks made his appropriately titled Silent Movie
(1976), but that had a contemporary setting and favored Brooks's vulgar shtick over the physical grace of the silent clowns. By contrast, this 2011 effort often manages to duplicate the magical pantomime of the era; a lovely scene in which Bejo drapes herself in the arms of a hung jacket as if it were a human lover could have come straight out of a Marion Davies picture. With John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller.