Si­lence is golden

A silent movie star looks set to steal this year’s Os­cars lime­light, writes Kirsten Craze

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

THERE is a lot of noise be­ing made in Hol­ly­wood for a cer­tain silent film and its lead­ing man, Jean Du­jardin.

Lead ac­tor in The Artist, Du­jardin ( pic­tured) plays 1920s movie star Ge­orge Valentin who is at his ca­reer peak when ‘‘ talkies’’ burst on to the scene.

For­tu­nately for the French star, who is just be­gin­ning to shine States- side, he has just one of the only two spo­ken lines in the in­ter­na­tional break­out film. Thank­fully, be­cause at 39 he is only now learn­ing English.

Speak­ing in his na­tive tongue from his tem­po­rary base in a Los An­ge­les ho­tel room, Du­jardin seems over­whelmed by the at­ten­tion and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing ac­co­lades which in­clude a Palm D’OR at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, a Golden Globe for best ac­tor in a com­edy, a SAG award, an AACTA and Os­car nom­i­na­tion, not to men­tion count­less gongs for the film it­self.

He ad­mits the sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence has given him a metaphor­i­cal sense of ver­tigo.

‘‘ This kind of thing hap­pens once in a life­time, so I’m just try­ing to take it all in with plea­sure, but there is also a lot of ex­haus­tion be­cause it’s very in­tense,’’ Du­jardin says.

Since ‘‘ talkies’’ trans­formed the world of cinema al­most a cen­tury ago, and then colour be­gan seep­ing on to the sil­ver screen a decade later, Hol­ly­wood has dab­bled with black and white as a cin­e­matic tool, and the odd film­maker has even tack­led the silent genre with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess.

How­ever, this lit­tle French and Amer­i­can film ‘‘ that could’’ has made crit­ics and the cir­cus of award cer­e­monies re­ally sit up and lis­ten.

In its fic­tional world of Hol­ly­wood through­out the late 1920s to 1930s, The Artist tells the story of Valentin as he goes from tri­umphant silent film su­per­star, to dated has- been af­ter he re­jects what he be­lieves to be a pass­ing fad – the ‘‘ talkie’’.

Du­jardin ( pro­nounced du- zhardan) says when di­rec­tor Michel Hazanavi­cius first broached the idea of ‘‘ un film muetet noir et blanc’’ on the set of their first film to­gether, a James Bond- es­que spoof called OSS 117 – Cairo, Nest

of Spies, he thought it was a lit­tle far- fetched.

‘‘ One day he said ‘ Hey, I’d like to make a silent movie’. I said, ‘ Well OK, why not?’ But I thought it was surely a fan­tasy – we all have fan­tasies. Me, I want to go to the moon!’’ he says.

‘‘ At times I didn’t think the film would see the light of day, but he took off on his own to his of­fice to write and then he found pro­ducer Thomas Lang­mann to fi­nance the film.’’

The Artist is the first partly US- funded project by writer, di­rec­tor and ed­i­tor Hazanavi­cius, who is him­self nom­i­nated for a best di­rec­tor Os­car, as is his wife and Du­jardin’s co- star and love in­ter­est, Ar­gen­tinian- born ac­tress Berenice Bejo ( pic­tured right and with Du­jardin).

‘‘ While film­ing we got the im­pres­sion that it was some­thing unique, some­thing very per­sonal and orig­i­nal,’’ Du­jardin says, ad­mit­ting that the lack of a sound guy on set brought with it a free­dom which is of­ten not ex­pe­ri­enced in film mak­ing to­day.

‘‘ The days were long, but we had so much fun. Each day was dif­fer­ent and it was a new way to act; more in­stinc­tive, less in­tel­lec­tual, and it was very en­joy­able as an ac­tor.

‘‘ It’s dif­fer­ent in the sense that we could play mu­sic on set, the di­rec­tor can speak to you di­rectly, we could speak a bit in French, in English, in Gib­ber­ish.’’

In pre­par­ing to play Valentin, Du­jardin says he took in­ten­sive tap danc­ing lessons and stud­ied the stars of Hol­ly­wood’s golden era, par­tic­u­larly Char­lie Chap­lin and Gene Kelly.

‘‘ I didn’t want to im­i­tate Chap­lin be­cause he’s a ge­nius and you just can’t copy him; he’s unique. The char­ac­ter just started to form with the cos­tume, the lights, the decor and ev­ery­thing like that. Then it just came down to sim­ply play­ing the part, the sit­u­a­tion hon­estly,’’ he says.

A house­hold name for the best part of two decades, Du­jardin be­gan as a slap­stick sketch co­me­dian in the 1990s, gain­ing celebrity sta­tus for sev­eral silly catch­phrases, but in re­cent years his char­ac­ters have de­vel­oped more meat on the fig­u­ra­tive bone.

It is not un­til now, how­ever, he has been able to sink his teeth into the global mar­ket.

‘‘ In France we have a blos­som­ing film in­dus­try, so we don’t re­ally need to ex­port our­selves else­where. Not ev­ery­one has the Hol­ly­wood fan­tasy, not ev­ery­one has that dream,’’ he says, adding that some un- named US film of­fers have al­ready started to come his way.

De­ter­mined not to be de­railed by the re­cent at­ten­tion fo­cus­ing on just one film, Du­jardin says while his life has be­come a whirl­wind, it has not changed dra­mat­i­cally.

‘‘ I don’t want it to change any­thing. I sup­pose if it has changed some­thing it has meant a lit­tle more free­dom for me when it comes to my ca­reer choices,’’ he says.

‘‘ I want to re­main hon­ourable and keep do­ing what I love to do, and what I love do­ing is act­ing, and get­ting projects off the ground and act­ing in them. That’s all I ex­pect.’’

His next big role will be don­ning a tuxedo on Fe­bru­ary 26 for the Os­cars where The Artist is nom­i­nated for 10 awards.

‘‘ But I think in March I’m go­ing to re­lax for a cou­ple of weeks; turn off the mo­bile and dis­ap­pear into the moun­tains where no­body can find me,’’ he says. State Cinema Vil­lage Cine­mas, Feb 16 Re­view:

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