The Artist, Silent Cinema and De Sica

In the previous post, I discussed Scorsese’s longtime love affair with film history, notably in his latest cinematic effort , Hugo. Now, I want to shift focus to another film from 2011 that lends much (much is a tad of an understatement) of its narrative direction to cinema’s past, The Artist (the 2nd most nominated film this year with ten, one shy of Hugo‘s eleven).

The Artist has been praised by critics and fans alike for Michel Hazanavicius’s pure homage to silent film. In a period where studios are cranking out the latest overblown 3-D CGI epic, a film that is virtually silent besides an accompanying score is a bold move to say the least (and happy to report that it works well here on every level).  The Artist has been compared by many to Singin’ in the Rain, Sunset Boulevard, and Citizen Kane. These three films deal with the fragility of fame and the consequences of living under the microscope of the public to varying ends (a much more positive end result in Singin’ in the Rain than the other two) and The Artist is no exception. However, most writings that I’ve come across on The Artist fail to mention influences that extend beyond the aesthetic borders of silent film and Hollywood; notably Italian cinema.

While watching The Artist I could not help but be enthralled with how much of an uncanny resemblance it had to Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952). For those of you who have seen and remember Umberto D, I’m sure you will agree with me. The relationship between the two films hit me on less of a stylistic level and more in terms of story. Not sure if there is a strong argument comparing The Artist to Italian Neorealism, although, if someone can please let me know.

Firstly, both films feature some of the best canine acting I’ve ever seen – seriously! And now that I think of it, Hugo featured a very clever canine as well named Blackie. Maybe this year’s Oscar race should have been touted as “The Year of the Dog”.  *SPOILER ALERT*

The last scene of Umberto D unfolds similarly to the moments where George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) contemplates the the ‘big sleep’ much to the surprise of his canine sidekick, Jack (Uggie) and gal pal, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). Flike, the dog from Umberto D, gives such a convincing performance on-screen that you’ll be brought to tears (and if you don’t, then someone needs to check their pulse). You have witness it for yourself.  But, before you do, a little narrative context can’t hurt. And since I’m lazy and Wikipedia has done such a great job of summarzing…

“Umberto contemplates suicide by stepping on (an) electrified trolley rail until (he’s) discouraged by the fate of his dog asleep on the bed. Umberto then leaves the apartment and attempts to find a place for his dog to stay before finding where he himself will live (or die). Despite Umberto’s attempt to hide from Flike, the dog  finds Umberto hiding under a footbridge. Umberto decides to take the life of both. In desperation Umberto walks towards a train track where a train is about to pass. Umberto holds Flike and walks under the protective barrier towards the oncoming train…”

*And as I may have you know, I am man enough to admit that I actually teared up previewing this video before I posted it.*

Hope you enjoyed that little clip. If you ever get a chance to catch this film, I highly encourage you to do so.

Thought I’d share this fun little clip posted by a fellow blogger who just so happens to be a boy genius, but just don’t tell him I told you that:

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2 thoughts on “The Artist, Silent Cinema and De Sica

  1. Josh says:

    I thought the same thing when I saw The Artist last night, then had to Google “The Artist” and “Umberto D” to see who else was making the connection. Great post!

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