I watched a great film the other week called “The Artist”. It’s a black and white silent movie, made in 2011. I love the juxtaposition of those two seemingly conflicting facts. It’s actually the most awarded French film in history but I can’t imagine it features in many lists of “must-see” movies. It should.
I know plenty of people who are immediately put off by foreign language or subtitled films. I can understand the idea that tv is something to relax and enjoy in the passive sense, but I like something that makes me think. And think about it I have.
The film is set in the late 1920s on the cusp of the silent movie being eclipsed by the new technology of movies with sound. George Valentin is the dashing silent movie star whose success is instantly forgotten when Peppy Miller, a young dancer who Valentin gives a chance in the movies after an accidental meeting, eclipses his success. Behind this reversal in fortunes is that Valentin clings to the old medium, making another silent movie which is a complete flop. The crunch comes when Peppy is being interviewed in a restaurant about her success. Unbeknown to Peppy, Valentin is sat right behind her and overhears her express her disdain for the silent movie, exclaiming “Make way for the young!”. Valentin is furious and, making his presence known, bitterly informs Peppy “There, I made way for you!” as he leaves.
This phenomenon isn’t confined to the past. There are plenty of George Valentin’s in organisations today. People whose skills matched perfectly with what was required at that time. Who achieved amazing things and for a while were considered the best. But then requirements changed, their confidence was lost and they struggled to see how they fit in to the new order.
Now here’s the spoiler. Peppy is in love with Valentin. Although perhaps obsessed is the word. At his lowest point, when he’s suicidal and disillusioned by his past achievements, it’s Peppy who saves him. At first Valentin is annoyed that Peppy was propping him up behind the scenes when he thought he was standing alone, but eventually her persistence means he finds roles in the new talking movies he resisted.
We all need a Peppy. Someone who continues to believe in us even when we’re in a downward spiral. Someone who doesn’t let our achievements be dimmed by a different light. I’m not saying we allow people to rest on their past laurels, but nor should past greatness be confined to the annals of history. Those who have been great can be great again with the right mentor. They just need to find their new place.
And if you haven’t watched the film yet, it’s definitely a “must-see”.
Image Credit: Still from the movie, “The Artist”