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A Tale of Two Films (Oscar Edition): “The Artist” and “A Separation”

Yep, I’m late on this. I know. This year, I didn’t see alot of the movies that were up for some of the top awards at the Oscars, so I decided to start a tradition of seeing the two best films according to the Academy after the award show. As it was, this year they were the winner of Best Foreign Language film, A Separation, and the top film of them all, Best Picture winner The Artist (which I was already disappointed in myself for not seeing sooner). So to the theater I went, and I seriously could not have had a more enjoyable time at the movies. 

Do See: The Artist (starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo) Charming. Cute. Nostalgic. Heartwarming. Those are all the adjectives I would use to describe this movie. The story follows the simultaneous fall of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and rise of the new kid of the block, actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) as silent films began to lose popularity and “talkies” began to gain favor. The two cross paths early on and forge a bond that remains through the approximate six years of the movie (1927-1932). Through it all we see their vulernabilites and determination; his to survive being cast off by his studio and to remain in the film business and hers to become famous and ultimately help him through his struggles.  Do I think it was worthy of the best picture win? I can’t say for sure since there were a few other nominees I haven’t seen. What I can say though is that I never thought a black and white silent movie could feel so fresh and relevant. Couple that with the brilliant commentary on the fickleness of Hollywood, wonderful dance numbers, and wicked chemistry between the leads, and you have one great movie. I have heard alot of people taking about the ending when (SPOILER!) he finds his voice and utters his only (heard) words in the film. But it was also clever is that he spoke in his French accent. Of course we all know now that Jean Dujardin is a Frenchman from the media, but what if you didn’t know this going in? He has the look in the film of a very American Clark Gable, but ultimately his character is a Frenchman making it in American movies, a fact that can be hidden in silent films (and even by his name which is probably a pseudonym). Consequently, I think there was another layer to his assertion in the movie that “no one wants to hear my voice”. So underneath this there is a even more inventive theme of losing/trading in ones identity (not just as a actor) that I think the movie explores. A must see in my opinion. 

Do See: A Separation (starring Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini) I haven’t seen a ton of foreign films but this was probably one of my favorites to date (next to the Motorcycle Diaries). The story follows a married couple - Nader and Simin -  who are separating and on the verge of divorce. Ultimately, Simin wants them to leave Iran with their 11-year daughter because of the country’s prevailing hostile conditions and to provide a better life for her but her husband Nader refuses to leave his father who is ill with Alzheimer’s disease. This separation becomes the catalyst for bigger issues as Nader is forced to leave his father in the care of a poor, pregnant woman who loses her baby and blames Nader for it. The movie does go on alittle longer than I thought was necessary and has an ending that I think did not do the story justice, but the totality of this gripping drama was successful both in bringing the audience into very real struggles surrounding culture/religion, marriage, parenthood, and more importantly the intent and consequence of truth vs. lies as well as weaving in dilemmas that snowball and make you struggle to find better solutions. This one is also a movie that I strongly recommend.