FILM: The Artist
Directed by French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, this Golden Globe and Oscar-winning comedy drama evokes the silent era of film. Stylistically daring and dialogue-free, the film simply uses performances from the cast and an overlying music score to tell its tale. The film stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a screen idol in Hollywood before the dawn of talking movies. Despite his popularity as a romance icon to women everywhere, his marriage is far from perfect, and one day, by chance, he meets ambitious chorus girl Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and is immediately smitten. However, while romance is definitely in the air, so is change, and as Peppy’s star begins to rise in the newly-invented talking picture world, George’s begins to dip as he is unable to make the change between the two mediums.
Interview with actress Bérénice Béjo:
Do you remember the first time Michel Hazanavicius talked to you about wanting to make a silent movie?
It was at a party for the first ‘OSS’: he told Jean and me that he’d been dreaming of making a silent movie for ten years. We thought it was madness and never imagined such a project could ever be achieved. But after the success of both ‘OSS’ films, Michel thought that this would perhaps be the right time to try to get the project started. Once a director has had successes he’s taken more seriously and becomes more credible.
But it was a long road before the project could go all the way to the end; just a few weeks before we started shooting, Michel and I would always use the conditional: “If we go to L.A…” “If we begin filming…” You have to be crazy, passionate about cinema like (producer) Thomas Langmann, to agree to throw yourself – in the age of 3D and special effects – into a silent, black and white project.
When did he talk to you about the character of Peppy Miller, this young starlet who becomes a star that he intended you to play?
He hesitated between two stories for a long time then one day, he told me he’d found the right one; he was going to tell the story of the silent movie star who doesn’t believe in the talkies when they arrive and, instead of going with the times and jumping on bandwagon, stays behind. And suddenly everything collapses for him.
He added: “There will be a girl who will appear here and there. It will only be a small part but I’d really like you to do it.” There also was a little dog in the story and I would joke: “Even the dog has a bigger part than me!” Later, Michel told me: “It’s strange when you write, you create characters, a story, but at a given point they become stronger than the hand that writes them.” The story of this silent movie star has thus become a love story between him and this young extra. And that’s how, from version to version, Peppy Miller gradually became more and more important!
Did you view the fact that you had to play this character without a voice, without dialogue, as an obstacle, another challenge or on the contrary, as a springboard to more freedom?
It’s a strange feeling… the audience can’t hear us but we often talk in the film, we have a few lines. That’s strange already. I saw so many great silent films during pre-production – the Murnaus, the Frank Borzages and so forth – that I knew the absence of dialogue wouldn’t be an obstacle.
My instinct told me that the fact that we didn’t talk was going to make the characters and the pictures stronger. I knew that the characters would be magnified so I wasn’t concerned that they wouldn’t be heard. But now I’m afraid of microphones. We give ourselves so much pressure with words… I didn’t miss words, and if a director wants me for the role of a mute girl, I’ll take it right away!
CAST: JEAN DUJARDIN, BÉRÉNICE BEJO, JOHN GOODMAN, JAMES CROMWELL, PENELOPE ANN MILLER, MISSI PYLE, BETH GRANT
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius