Michel Hazanavicius enjoys evoking bygone cinematic eras, as in his spy spoof set in the 1950s, OSS 117 – NEST OF SPIES. When he decided the time was right to make THE ARTIST, a silent film, the first person he had to convince about the viability of his idea was himself. When I spoke to him on October 16, 2011, THE ARTIST had already won a best actor award for star Jean Dujardin, at the Cannes Film Festival, and the accolades of both critics and audiences in Europe. We began the conversation with a question about how the hero of the film pronounces his name (the audience never hears it spoken after all), and went on to discuss filming in Mary Pickford’s house, not filming in Charlie Chaplin’s old offices, and why silence is to film what the number zero is to mathematics.
THE ARTIST is his stunning film that dares to be silent and as a result is able to speak more effectively, and more profoundly, than most films with spoken dialogue. Set during Hollywood’s tumultuous transition to talkies, the story follows the fall and rise of two stars, George Valentin, whose career as a suave leading man in larger than life stories comes to a crashing end when he refuses to speak on camera, and Peppy Miller, the aspiring film extra who touches his heart on her way to stardom as the girl next door when films find their voice. The film stars Jean Dujardin as Valentin, Berenice Bejo as Miller, John Goodman as the frequently fuming studio mogul, Penelope Ann Miller as Valentin’s disaffected wife, James Cromwell as his loyal chauffeur, Missi Pyle as the blonde bombshell, and Uggo as his canine co-star and constant companion. Dujardin won the best actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.