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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

"The Artist" - a truly French success story?

It has been the talk of France over the past couple of days, the success of the film "The Artist" at this year's Oscars.

(screenshot from "The Artist" trailer)

The film, directed by the man by with an almost unpronouncable name (pity the poor Americans) Michel Hazanavicius, and starring Jean Dujardin picked up five statuettes, including Best Director, Film and Actor.

Without wanting to appear entirely churlish, how much is the gongification of the film and those involved down to the quality of what was up on the Big Screen and how much is due to a "master of movie industry promotion" Harvey Weinstein?

Is the film really a French success or just another example of how much power Weinstein wields in Hollywood?

Yes it's a film worth seeing. It's enjoyable and in a review when it first went on general release here in France, there was the recommendation here that, "If there's one film - just one single film - you should absolutely go to see this year it has to be 'The Artist'."

It's delightful, immensely entertaining and beautifully shot; "A pastiche…but lovingly made and extremely watchable," is how Screen International described it, and that was pretty much spot on.

When it premiered at Cannes, the long journey to international recognition was given one heck of a boost when Dujardin picked up Best Actor.

With a canny eye for what might appeal, Weinstein had already picked up the distribution rights before Cannes and by the time the film went on general release here in France in October, there were already rumours that it might be nominated in the main section of the Oscars and not consigned to the Foreign Picture category.

Its appeal was obvious.

Although not exactly original in being a silent film (after all how did the industry begin?) it was different enough to the 3D, special FX, kitchen sink sort of blockbuster diet the movie-going public is so often fed.

And what had originally been the very source of Hazanavicius' difficulties when he first came up with the idea in the 1990s but failed to get the funding, suddenly became one of its strengths as the promotional juggernaut switched up a gear.

Different equalled allure.

It paid dividends with the buzz from successive awards ceremonies including Golden Globes, British Baftas and French Césars (although in the case of the last, not Best Actor for Dujardin) combining with a formidable charm offensive to woo the Academy members who vote for the Oscars.

Throw in the theme of the film (Hollywood), where it was shot (Hollywood) and the homage it paid to several other (Hollywood) films and it surely had "winner" written all over it.

Plus there was no real language barrier to overcome.

Yes it is a French film directed by a Frenchman, starring French actors and produced by another Frenchman in the form of Thomas Langmann the son of the late (Oscar-winning) French director Claude Berri.

But equally its success is arguably very US driven.

Although it'll provide an international and financial boost to the careers of those involved especially Hazanavicius, his partner Bérénice Bejo and perhaps most notably Dujardin - provided they're willing to make as much of a commitment to living and working in Hollywood - it's undeniably also a tribute to the power and influence of one man - Harvey Weinstein.

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