French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius had immense success in his native country with two popular secret agent spoofs, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio. Both movies were blockbusters in France but mostly went unnoticed here in the States. Then the director turned up at this year’s Cannes Film Festival with The Artist, a silent black and white film about an era in Hollywood where silent films were giving away to “talkies,” something that changed the film industry forever, even if not everyone was able to go along for the ride.
Taking place in Hollywood in 1927, it stars OSS 117 himself, Jean Dujardin, as silent movie star George Valentin, an enormously popular leading man known for his swashbuckling roles. Hazanavicius’ wife, Argentine actress Bérénice Bejo, plays Peppy Miller, an ambitious young Valentin fan who gets her big break when she’s put on screen with her favorite actor and soon, the beautiful ingénue is getting bigger and bigger roles. As Peppy’s star begins to climb, Valentin’s own career begins to wane, because he refuses to get involved in the new talking cinema.
Since premiering at Cannes, the movie has played at Telluride, Toronto and the New York Film Festival to equally enormous raves from critics and audiences alike, with many Oscar pundits elevating the film deservedly to the forefront of films that could possibly win Best Picture at next year’s Academy Awards. The thought of an unknown French filmmaker like Hazanavicius being placed among the ranks of directors like Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Alexander Payne, David Fincher and other Oscar regulars certainly will make this year’s awards race a lot more interesting, but the storytelling and filmmaking skills Hazanavicius shows off in The Artist make all the film’s kudos seem worthy.
Hazanavicius has been doing the rounds with the film for months, showing it to every industry guild and awards group possible, and in our extensive video interview below, ComingSoon.net spoke to the filmmaker about:
* What got him interested in going to Hollywood to make a silent film
* Whether he had to write a full script for the film
* If lip readers may find some interesting nuggets in the silent dialogue
* Getting Jean and Bérénice involved in the movie following “OSS 117”
* Having a high-profile movie with unknown French actors
* Getting people into the idea of watching a silent movie
* Working with the cinematographer and production designer on the B&W look
And lots more!
(Our apologies for the noisy atmosphere and the sound problems it’s created.)
The Artist opens in New York and Los Angeles on November 23 with plans to expand gradually over the coming months. Look for our interviews with Hazanavicius’ stars sometime soon.