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Silent film is all the talk at Cannes

CANNES, France — A French director's clever silent movie about a
fallen Hollywood silent-movie star came out of nowhere on Sunday to
become a strong contender for the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Artist" by Michel Hazanavicius won strong applause -- and more than a
few laughs -- from festival goers who'd been wondering if Cannes this
year was ever going to be about more than dysfunctional families and
sexual deviancy.

Shot in Hollywood in black and white, it stars
Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a vain silent-movie hero in 1927 who
becomes a zero two years later with the advent of the talkies.

Bejo is Peppy Miller, a talking-picture siren who fondly remembers how
Valentin gave her a leg-up in show biz. Veteran funnyman John Goodman
rounds out the cast as studio boss Al Zimmer.

heavy-hitting Weinstein brothers, riding high on the success of "The
King's Speech," are planning to release "The Artist" later this year.
Winning top honours at Cannes would give the film a huge publicity

But for now, Hazanavicius -- best known for the "OSS"
spy-movie parodies -- is more than happy with his adventure in a form of
cinema that was long thought extinct.

"It's purely visual. It's
pure cinema. I didn't know if I'd be able to do it," said the
44-year-old film-maker, who called in composer and longtime collaborator
Ludovic Bource to score the rich orchestral soundtrack.

Like his
cast, Hazanavicius watched a lot of silent films -- Charlie Chaplin's
among them -- in order to grasp the secrets of telling a tale without
spoken words.

He soon realised that ironic comedy wouldn't cut it.
"A silent film imposes a certain experience on the viewer," he
explained. "A melodrama or a love story fits best with the (silent)

Bejo, born in Argentina but raised in France, took
inspiration from silent era heroines -- "without doing much, they
managed to convey a lot of emotion" -- and F.W. Murnau's 1930 classic
"City Girl".

Going into the project, she said, "I was petrified. I
wondered if I could rise to the challenge... but strangely enough, not
having to talk gave us tremendous freedom. We could overplay, for

Dujardin agreed: "Sometimes there's too much talking in films. Silence is a wonderful exercise."

in Cannes on Sunday, but much talked about, was the terrier who plays
Valentin's faithful four-legged companion. Named Uggy, he looked like a
shoo-in for this year's Palm Dog prize for best canine acting.

films in competition seen so far in Cannes have been achingly heavy,
such as British director Lynne Ramsey's "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
and Australian film-maker Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty".

Artist" was a last-minute addition to the list of 20 films vying for the
Palme d'Or, having initially been earmarked to be shown out of

But Hazanavicius made no apologies for making a
crowd-pleaser -- although it remains to be seen how a silent movie will
go down in this era of 3-D blockbusters and multiplex theatres.

designed to be a popular film," he said, "not something that would be
state of the art or complicated, or something you'd have to read between
the lines."


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