Michel Hazanavicius: Spoofing genres from spies to silents

Comedy Impact Report 2011: Foreign Funnymen

Building on his James Bond-style “OSS 117” satires with actor Jean Dujardin, French comedy scribe-helmer Michel Hazanavicius made a bold move with “The Artist,” a black-and-white silent film set in the 1920s toplining Dujardin as Georges Valentin, a fading movie star. “With ‘The Artist,’ I wanted to challenge the common belief that silent cinema is just for intellectuals and make a playful, poetic and aesthetically pleasing film that could stir emotions and entertain,” says Hazanavicius.

And he delivered on all fronts: Not only has “The Artist” scored high-profile U.S. distribution with the Weinstein Co. and an extensive fest play (earning Dujardin a perf nod in Cannes and nabbing audience prizes at the Hamptons, Mill Valley and San Sebastian fests), the humor-filled melodrama has also charmed French auds, grossing $12 million at the Gallic B.O. since its Oct. 12 bow. Hazanavicius’ two high-concept, gag-laden “OSS 117” spoofs sold to all major territories, and like “The Artist,” they performed well at the B.O., grossing a combined $38.8 million in France.

“I strive to make comedies that are sophisticated in the sense that they are visually appealing and boast multiple layers — when I write I always think of the children, but I also want to make the adults laugh,” confides the helmer, who says his tastes in comedy range widely from Adam Sandler to Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder.

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