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Culture

The Artist at the Oscars – a triumph for silent film and relentless campaigning

Text by Ben MCPARTLAND

Latest update : 2012-01-24

French silent film "The Artist" was nominated for 10 Academy Awards on Tuesday, including best picture and best director. The nominations are a coup for French film, silent cinema and masterful marketing by a seasoned American Oscar campaigner.

Highly acclaimed French film The Artist was given a ringing endorsement from Hollywood this week when it received 10 Academy Award nominations.

The number of nods, which included best picture and best director, is all the more impressive given that, at a time when 3D films are back in fashion, The Artist is a silent film made in black and white.

A silent movie has not been nominated for an Academy gong since 1927 and only seven black and white films have been nominated for best picture since 1970. No fully French production has ever scooped best picture.

After seeing the film pick up three Golden Globe awards last month, The Artist’s French director Michel Hazanavicius described the Academy nominations as a "fairy tale".

With a month to go before the Oscar ceremony The Artist has already become the standout story of the 2012 Academy Awards.

“The number of nominations is simply stunning,” Stephen Galloway, executive director of the Hollywood Reporter newspaper, told FRANCE 24. “The question is can it carry this momentum forward? It is certainly the favourite.”

Playing the awards game

The Artist is a love letter to the bygone era of silent cinema. It tracks the fall and then rise of a silent actor around the time Hollywood is turning its attention to talking pictures.

The film’s triumph across the pond is all the more remarkable given the current domination of the film market by Hollywood blockbusters staring household names or the latest young starlet.

Actor Jean Dujardin, nominated for best actor, may be a big name in France after starring in the cult spoof OSS movies but he and his co-star Bérénice Bejo were practically unheard of across the Atlantic. The film’s third star, a well-trained Jack Russell dog, was also new to the big screen.

But then Hollywood studio chairman Harvey Weinstein bought the rights to the film and began relentlessly promoting it and its stars with more than one eye on the Oscars.

“Harvey Weinstein is simply a master at playing the awards game,” said Galloway. “I don’t know how he does it but he pulls these films from obscurity and turns them into Oscar winners.”

“You have to campaign for the Oscars over here and no one does it better than him. All the key stars in the film have been very visible, including the dog. That has played a real part,” Galloway added.

Not just a gallic triumph

Apart from Weinstein’s involvement, the fact the film is set in the United States and does not feature dialogue in the French language are possible explanations as to why The Artist has wowed American audiences

The question then is, if The Artist pockets gong after gong how much can it be seen as a real coup for French cinema and foreign-language films?

“There’s been a huge debate about this in Hollywood,” said Galloway. “Most of the people on scene in the film are American and most people behind the scenes are American. But the key filmmakers and key stars are French so even if it is shot in Los Angeles and has a big US contingent it has definitely been made with French sensibilities.

“You could say the film is indicative of the global film industry these days. It is very, very hard to say anymore that a film is from one particular country.”

French author and cinema historian Marc Cerisuelo agreed, saying The Artist’s success must be shared on both sides of the Atlantic.

“It is not exactly a French film that has been exported to the US like La Vie en Rose,” he told FRANCE 24. “It is a combined project between the two countries.”

The Artist has already been nominated for best film by the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and won the top prize from the Producers Guild of America (PGA) last week – both seen as key indicators of Oscars glory.

For director Michael Hazanavicius, known for his fondness for taking risks, and producer Thomas Langmann the success of the film has already gone beyond expectations.

“It’s like a fairy-tale for this film that at the start was seen as a handicapped film, deaf and dumb, an ugly duckling,” said Hazanavicius.

Fans of the movie on both sides of the Atlantic will now be hoping it can go one step further and claim the film industry’s biggest prize.

“Whether it wins or not just to get 10 nominations is absolutely fantastic,” said Cerisuelo.

“I am not sure if it will really win the important Oscar awards like best picture and best actor because it is up against people like George Clooney. The tradition of the Academy Awards is not to give the prizes to comedies.”

Martin Scorsese’s 3D adventure Hugo pipped The Artist to the most nominations by bagging 11. The Oscar ceremony will take place on February 26 in Hollywood.

Date created : 2012-01-24

  • ACADEMY AWARDS

    'The Artist' earns 10 nods as Oscar nominees named

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  • GOLDEN GLOBES

    The Artist wins Golden Globe for best musical/comedy

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  • CINEMA

    'The Artist': From French risk to Hollywood juggernaut

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