Cannes 2011: 'The Artist' paints a surreal picture
Every year at the Cannes Film Festival, there’s a movie with some kind of quirk or novelty that gets people talking before the proceedings even get underway.
Last year, it was “Carlos," which had journalists and festival-goers sounding like triathletes as the festival opened; who, went the Croisette conversation, could make it through the entire 5 1/2-hour run of the period biopic when the film screened the following week?
This year, as the festival prepares to kick off Wednesday night, there’s an almost equal amount of buzz, for very different reasons, about another movie: Michel Hazanavicius’ French film “The Artist."
Hazanavicius is best known for a movie with a somewhat different scope, the James Bond spoof "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies." But that’s only part of what makes this a conversation piece.
"The Artist," set in Hollywood during the transition from silent films to sound, is itself a silent film. And because the director wanted to film in real Hollywood locations, he brought his French stars (Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo) to Los Angeles and added U.S. actors including John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller to the mix.
U.S. rights to the movie, which are available, are being pursued by several distributors, including the acquisition-happy Weinstein Co., which made a number of buys at the Sundance Film Festival this year. It's the kind of movie Harvey Weinstein likes to make some publicity hay with, though the extent of the U.S. market for a silent film remains to be seen.
Cannes organizers are doing their own part to contribute to the hype: “The Artist” was upgraded from its out-of-competition slot to one of the 20 films in competition, which means it will gets a lot more media attention and also has a shot at the Palme d’Or. In one way, however, it is conventional: The movie has a standard 100-minute running time.
-- Steven Zeitchik and Kenneth Turan in Cannes, France
Photo: "The Artist." Credit: Wild Bunch