The Cannes Film Festival wrapped up its awards on Sunday, which was a grand day for actor Jean Dujardin who clinched the Best Actor Palm d’Or for his leading role as George Valentin in the French black & white Cannes darling, The Artist. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is not just a black & white feature, it is a black & white SILENT feature. Cannes critics and audiences fell immediately in love! But who wouldn’t adore a film that captures the nostalgia of Hollywood in the early days of the 20th century?
What follows is the May 17 Los Angeles Times interview with Hazanavicius, which explores the inspiration and the wonder behind The Artist, which is currently seeking U.S. distribution (rumor has it that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Co. has his eyes on this prize).
By Kenneth Turan | Los Angeles Times Film Critic
The Artist manages the seemingly impossible: It’s a new silent film that pays thoughtful tribute to the traditions of the past while creating great fun for modern audiences. Which is just what French director Michel Hazanavicius had in mind.
“A silent film is a very special experience. … It’s not intellectual, it’s emotional. You take it in the way you take in music,” Hazanavicius explains, tired but still engaging at the end of a day spent coping with a deluge of media requests. “There are times when language reduces communication, when you feel you are losing something when you start talking.”
“It is very difficult,” he adds, “to say important things with only words. Gestures, looks, silences are also important. We have this when we communicate with our children when they are very young. It’s the same with the intimacy of a couple. And when a person is dying, you don’t speak — you hold their hand.”
Hazanavicius set his film in Hollywood between 1927 and 1931, during the transition from silent film to sound, because he thought it would help audiences feel that a silent version of the story made sense. The story follows a silent film star whose career goes into decline when the talkies are invented.
But the film isn’t set only in Hollywood. Hazanavicius, a director well known in France for secret agent spoofs like OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies, brought his cinematographer and his regular stars, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, all the way to Los Angeles to shoot the movie in the physical space where it happened.
He gave American actors including John Goodman and James Cromwell supporting roles, and filmed at “vintage” locations all over Los Angeles, including Mary Pickford‘s house on Fremont Place, the Wilshire-Ebell Theatre, the Bradbury Building, and the backlots at Paramount, Warner Bros. and Red Studio in the heart of old Hollywood.
“The movie is much better in Hollywood. It was very moving for us to go to all these real places,” he explained. “American people look like American people, the way Bulgarians look like Bulgarians, so it was important to go there.” The version of the film shown at Cannes has English intertitles because “since the action takes place in Hollywood, it would seem wrong if the people spoke French.”
And now, take a look at this glorious trailer for The Artist — we’re waiting impatiently for this amazing film to hit U.S. theaters!