The idea of making a silent film had been running through French helmer Michel Hazanavicius’ mind for a long time — a wild dream he knew he couldn’t achieve unless he proved himself first as a bankable and talented director. And after lining up the two “OSS: 117” James Bond spoofs, Hazanavicius dedicated himself to finding a good story to be told in a silent, black-and-white feature.
“I had many possible options: I thought of an adventure comedy or a spy movie; I even thought of doing a silent ‘Invisible Man,’?” says the director, who ultimately chose to write a melodrama and fill it with lightness and touches of humor. “It’s a genre that appeals to me, and I think it works best in this format.”
To pull it off, Hazanavicius knew he had to abandon the irony and sarcasm of his previous films. Still, he didn’t want to make a film that would be deemed too academic or experimental. Writing the story without dialogue proved to be major hurdle at the beginning, but it led him to find creative means to communicate his ideas through images and camera moves.
“I set up a scenario that had a fairly traditional narrative structure with endearing characters, and then I used a plethora of images, not necessarily realistic, which were evocative enough to convey emotions,” the filmmaker says.
“For instance when George Valentin is facing a store window looking at a suit he sees himself in, or when he’s sitting in a chair having a drink and the camera circles around him, or when Peppy Miller visits his dressing room and plays with his jacket — all of these scenes reveal what the characters are feeling.”
As Hazanavicius claims it, “The entire film works with images, the music is only there to accentuate the emotions.”
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