Looking back, director Michel Hazanavicius realizes, “‘The Artist’ could be the prequel to a male version of ‘Sunset Blvd.'” As he sees it, “‘The Artist’ deals with a star struggling to adapt to a changing world. It’s a film about cinema, stardom, silence, love and ultimately it’s about Hollywood.”

Still, “‘Sunset Blvd.’ offered a cruel and cynical portrait of Hollywood, whereas ‘The Artist’ gives a somewhat naive and embellished vision of it,” says Hazanavicius, who co-produced the film via his Paris-based shingle, La Classe Americaine. “I wasn’t interested in drawing a realistic portrayal of Hollywood, as I don’t have much of an opinion on it. My aim was to depict ‘that’ Hollywood.”

Before Hazanavicius came up with the plot and themes, however, the only thing he had in mind was the format: a silent, black-and-white film.

“When I started writing, the film was set in Berlin, and centered on a German expressionist actor who kills himself after his career is wrecked with the arrival of talkies. I wanted to draw a parallel between the emergence of talkies and the rise of Nazis. But I realized that was way too depressing and alienating.”

The challenge was “finding a balance between a heavy melodrama and an overly cheerful film,” says Hazanavicius. “I couldn’t ask the audience to watch a black-and-white silent film with Nazis which ends with a suicide.”

From the moment he chose to set the action in Hollywood, the Gallic director says the themes came to him instinctively.

“Hollywood accounts for a big part of my film culture. I’m a fan of Billy Wilder, John Ford, Tod Browning and Josef von Sternberg, among others.”

Writing the script without dialogue was the most difficult part of the creative process, he says.

“In the absence of dialogue, we allow the audience to fill in the blanks, project their own fantasies, imagination and ideas onto the film; watching a silent feature becomes a personal experience.”

Eye on the Oscars: The Director
It’s a matter of ‘life’ and mirth
And the nominees are:
Woody Allen | Michel Hazanavicius | Terrence Malick | Alexander Payne | Martin Scorsese