10 July 2012

Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist (2011)

It's not often that I bother commenting on a major Oscar winner, but this one is unusual in being French, silent, and black and white. Michel Hazanavicius also sounds very interesting, so I leave a paragraph about his work as a footnote which is actually larger than my comment.*

The Artist is set between 1927 and 1933, a crucial period in movie history which falls between the final years of the silent and the ineluctable triumph of the sound era, as personified by George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), the dashing and all-too-proud king of the silents who is fading fast because he won't accept change – and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who will rise to sparkle as the queen of the talkies but still has her eye on George. Brilliant performances, and let's not forget wonderful Uggie, the dog.

*Michel Hazanavacius made a number of French television movies before his first feature in 1996, Mes amis ('My Friends'). This movie (which I've not seen but would like to) concerns a producer of secondrate sitcoms who, with his lead actor, spends the night with a prostitute who dies as a result a sex game which misfires. They decide not to tell the police and try to hide the body, but a trainee records the crime and decides to blackmail them.

Hazanavacius's next two movies, which The Artist followed, are very loosely based on the work of Jean Bruce (1921–63), a prolific French espionage novel writer whose early material preceded Ian Fleming's by four years, and whose name (after his death in a 200 kph car crash) was continued in the similar writings of his wife Josette and his children François and Martine. Hazanavacius's inspiration came from the Bruce family's OSS (Office of Strategic Services) series, using the name of an American spy of French origin called Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath. Both movies star Jean Dujardin, the first also Hazanavacius's wife Bérénice Bejo: OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espions (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies) (2006), and OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus (OSS 117: Lost in Rio) (2009).

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