The five Oscars awarded to “The Artist,” a black-and-white tribute to the silent-picture era, marks a record for a French film as it beat out bigger-budget movies with more famous stars.
The mostly silent film, judged the best picture, won Michel Hazanavicius the award for best director. Jean Dujardin was honored as best actor for playing George Valentin, an aging film star unable to cut it in the talkies, making the 39-year-old the first French actor to win the award.
The movie “seduced the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with its ingenuity and grace,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement. The awards are a tribute to the “extraordinary vitality” of the country’s film industry.
While French movies such as “Indochine” and “Preparez Vos Mouchoirs” have won in the best-foreign-film category, this is the first time one has won the overall award. The Artist, which cost about $15 million to make, beat out more expensive films with bigger stars in the best picture category such as “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese’s first 3-D movie, “The Descendants,” starring George Clooney, “The Help” from DreamWorks Studios and Walt Disney Co. and Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”
Dujardin beat Clooney, Brad Pitt, who was nominated for his role in “Moneyball” and Gary Oldman for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
The Artist, which focuses on an actor whose career is threatened by the advent of talking pictures and the affection of a young dancer working toward her big break, won three Golden Globe awards last month. Dujardin won the best-actor trophy at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film was distributed by Weinstein Co.
“I discovered that silent film is almost an advantage,” Dujardin was quoted as saying by The Internet Movie Database website. “You just have to think of the feeling for it to show. No lines to pollute it. It doesn’t take much - a gaze, an eyelash flutter - for the emotion to be vivid.”
Dujardin is in some ways an unlikely artist to bring home the first French best-actor trophy, which has eluded the likes of Gerard Depardieu.
Born in the suburban town of Rueil-Malmaison outside Paris, he did his first one-man show in 1995 and became known in France after starring as “Loulou” in the television series “Un Gars, Une Fille” about the everyday life of a young middle-class couple, according to the IMDB website.
He also starred in the 2005 comedy “Brice de Nice” about a rich 30-year-old wanna-be surfer on the French Riviera waiting for the perfect wave to come on the ever-calm Mediterranean Sea. Brice’s yellow hair and T-shirts gained cult status in France as did his axe-like gesture symbolizing a put-down.
Dujardin’s upcoming film “Les Infideles,” scheduled to open Feb. 29, has already created controversy in France after a series of promotional posters were pulled by regulators for being sexist and designed to shock. In one Dujardin, dressed in a suit and tie, stands between a woman’s spread legs underneath the caption “I’m going into a meeting.”
Meanwhile, as in past years at the Oscars, academy voters shunned the year’s top-grossing films in their best-picture nominations, focusing on lower-budget or less-seen movies. “Hugo,” which tied with “The Artist” with five awards, was the costliest, with a budget estimated at $170 million by the Internet Movie Database.
Meryl Streep won best actress for playing Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” Allen was honored for best original screenplay for “Midnight in Paris,” about a writer who goes back in time to meet Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.
The Artist also won Oscars for best costume design and best original score.