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THE ARTIST- Interview with the cast in Santa Barbara
French auteur Michel Hazanavicius of the film ‘The Artist’ (2011) was born 29 March 1967, and although few can pronounce his name correctly, everyone is talking about this tres talented French director. French actor Jean Dujardin calls the director ‘Michel Hazana-genius’; due to the film’s explosive worldwide success, it would appear that most agree to his work as ‘genius’ indeed. Before ‘The Artist’, few had heard of Hazanavicius outside of France while in fact the director has been at work as a film industry professional for nineteen years, first from TV and thereafter to cinema.
Hazanavicius is director to films such as: ‘OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies’ (France, 2006) and ‘OSS 117: Lost in Rio’ (France, 2009) and most recently, ‘The Artist’ (France, 2011). He is married to actress Berenice Bejo, who plays the lead role in all Michel’s most recent films. Despite receiving a lot of attention and fan base in his native France from his TV directing and spy gag romantic comedies, his most notable and celebrated feat yet proves ‘The Artist’.
Since the film’s Cannes premiere in 2011, it has received worldwide acclaim and most recently a Golden Globe for Best Picture by a musical/comedy, Best Actor for Jean Dujardiin, a nomination for Best Picture for the upcoming Academy Awards, 2012, and has most recently cleaned the award slate at the BAFTA awards in England where it received the prestigious award for Best Picture (producer Thomas Langmann), Best Director, Best Screenplay by Michel Hazanivicius, Best Actor for Jean Dujardin and Best Actress Berenice Bejo.
Compared to Michel’s previous films possibly the only detectable similarity to each are their notable reference to classic cinema- the spy movies to early English spy stories and ‘The Artist’ to the early Golden Age of Hollywood. It is clear to see that Michel is an avid fan of referencing earlier cinema, beautifully marrying the two worlds of the past and present.
During his red carpet appearance in Santa Barbara during the 27th SBIFF where cast members Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo received Cinema Vanguard Awards for their performance in‘The Artist’. When asked about Michel’s use of reference to earlier cinema he explained: “For instance there is an auction and the panel that announces the auction; this is exactly the same as in a movie with Fred Astaire called ‘Band Wagon’. It starts with exactly the same thing. This is very obscure. Also I asked my fashion designer to make some larger shoes to change the profile of the actors and actually I took that from the Samurai, where the samurais make special shoes ten pounds on each shoe to change the walk of the actor, just to feel the difference in the camera.“
Michel shares that he had always wanted to make a silent film like those he had grown up watching as a child. So, as an artist, Michel took a chance to fulfill his dreams. While it seemed impossible at first his instincts have served him well. ‘Why not silent cinema?’ After all, it’s only when people stop speaking that they begin to really listen to each other. In many ways, other than being an independent silent art film, ‘The Artist’ proves that through black and white and soundlessness, much is left to the viewer to fill in the blanks leaving the rest of the creativity to come from the viewer.
When I asked what inspired him to make a film about the silent era, Golden Age of Hollywood and ‘Why silent?’, Michel responded: “Because I wanted to make a silent movie and when I started to talk about that desire people all asked me why I wanted to make a silent movie. I tell a story about just anyone they will always have that question, ‘Why a silent movie?’. So I decided to tell a story about a silent movie actor because I’m sure in a way it makes sense and makes things easier to understand because the subject is about a silent movie actor.”
When I asked about the challenge of finding his ideal cast and he said: “I mean, the truth is I wrote the script with them in mind so that’s why the characters and it wasn’t a challenge to cast Berenice because she’s my wife and I do what I want with her.” At this point Michel gently nudges his wife, who was standing on the red carpet. She laughed it off politely and the trio entered The Arlington Theater on State Street, Santa Barbara for a long ceremony evening ahead.
The lead actress in ‘The Artist’ is of course Berenice Bejo, Michel’s wife. Born July 7, 1976, Bejo is an Argentine-French Actress. I asked about her long and intriguing journey from Cannes to the Oscars this year, and Bejo explained: “I try to have fun and I’m with Michel. He’s funny so whenever I’m down or tired or cranky he tells me to just try to enjoy it. It may not be like this ever again so I just enjoy it. It feels a long long long road but it’s fun and it’s totally new for me so I really enjoy it even though I’m really tired. And I’m glad the Oscars are going to be the end of the month. You know, you play and you play a lot and you just want to know. And yeah, it’s been a unique experience and I’m really glad to be able to live it.”
When asking actor Jean Dujardin about his opinion as to why their little black and white silent film has done so well against other recent films with huge budgets, state-of-the-art technologically and hefty star power, he replied: “Because it’s a simple story. It’s universal. I don’t know. It’s a love story and there’s a cute dog.“
Written by Vanessa McMahon February 14th, 2012.
photos by Benjamin Schwartz
The Bulletin Board
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