By Romain Raynaldy, AFP
HOLLYWOOD–“The Artist,” French director Michel Hazanavicius’ silent, black-and-white love letter to American film, on Sunday earned Hollywood’s highest reward in return — a Best Picture Oscar. The first non-Anglo-Saxon film to take the top prize in Oscars history struck gold at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony, earning a total of five golden statuettes including those for best actor and best director. Other awards came for best original score and best costume design. “I am the happiest director in the world right now,” Hazanavicius said as he accepted his directing prize. Producer Thomas Langmann recently told AFP that legendary director Steven Spielberg had told him that it would be “impossible” to make a silent film — in black and white, no less — in Tinseltown today. Winning over France’s movie moguls was not a given either, but the country’s system of film financing, combined with Langmann’s tenacity, gave Hazanavicius the nine million euros (US$11.9 million) he needed to make the film in Hollywood. “In my view, we could not make the film anywhere else: if we were going to tell a Hollywood story, we needed to be there,” Langmann said. “Michel never dared ask me to do it this way, but if we were going to make this film, we were condemned to making it an excellent one.” But the “love letter” to Hollywood, as Hazanavicius called it when he took home a Golden Globe for best musical/comedy last month, might not have been written if movie mogul Harvey Weinstein had not taken up the film’s cause. “Harvey Weinstein did an incredible job. The way he thinks about a film, its audience, the way to best market the work at the right time — it’s really impressive,” Hazanavicius told AFP.
“Once he comes up with a strategy, he really gives himself the means to carry it out.” While the film has so far taken in a relatively modest US$28 million in North America, it has earned US$73 million worldwide and won glowing praise from critics and the industry it celebrates. Many films have been made in homage to American cinema, but none has been so well received. Perhaps, the film’s message is one that resonates today. “The Artist” tells the story of silent film star George Valentin, played by Oscar-winning French actor Jean Dujardin, who begrudgingly learns to reinvent himself for the age of “talkies.” In a way, “The Artist” allows Hollywood to believe in its own happy ending. Today, film canisters have given way to the digital age, and with the increasingly important role of 3D cinema technology, Hollywood must adapt to a revolution just as big as the shift experienced by Valentin. In the film, Valentin — who does not want to face the future — hits rock-bottom and survives a brush with death. But he rebuilds his life and career with the help of a former admirer, Peppy Miller, who has become one of the first starlets of the talking film age. They end up the perfect couple. Facing an uncertain future, voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — founded in 1927, the year in which “The Artist” is first set — perhaps cast their Best Picture ballots with a hint of nostalgia. In a bit of coincidence, as the Frenchman Hazanavicius paid tribute to American film, Martin Scorsese was honoring the origins of French cinema with “Hugo,” which celebrates the work of early pioneer Georges Melies. But while “The Artist” was made much like a silent film would have been produced in the 1920s, Scorsese used all the modern technology at his disposal for “Hugo.” At age 69, the U.S. director filmed in 3D for the first time.