When Michel Hazanavicius was but a young Jewish lad growing up in Paris, his grandfather used to schlep him to see silent movies on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the local cinema. We bet gramps didn't know little Michel'd absorb all that melodrama, slapstick and moody lighting and store it away in his brain nest for his own future creations.
From Spy Spoofs to Pre-Talkies
Haz wasn't always drawn to the old glamour of silent film, but he does have a tendency to remake old genres. Before he wrote the screenplay for The Artist, which he completed in four months, he was known for his spy film parodies, OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies (2006) and OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009).
These movies, which were commercially successful in France, poke fun at the OSS 117 Eurospy films from the 1950s and 60s, which take themselves (ahem) a little too seriously, and other popular spy flicks like Hitchcock's North by Northwest and, of course "Bond, James Bond" himself.
Hazanavicius was faithful to the cinematography, art direction and costumes of the 60s in his parodies, and it's this adherence to the ways of the good ol' days that makes his work unique.
One other thing his secret agent spoofs and The Artist have in common? Their stars: Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo (who is also Hazanavicius' wife).
Go Ahead, Laugh
His pals and confidants bust a gut when he first told them about his idea to make a silent film (seventy years after talkies took over), but Hazanavicius let their chortles slide off him like water off a dolphin.
Following in the footsteps of his silent movie heroes, directors G.W. Pabst and King Vidor, he began to craft a film that was part love letter to Hollywood, part indie-artsy darling, part charming mainstream movie, all without sound and color—because who needs those things, right?
In the end, the very reason his buddies guffawed at him (his hankering to go back in time) was what made Hazanavicius' movie stand out from the rest—so much so that Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein bought the U.S. rights to the film and released it in America to coincide with awards season. Nice timing.