France: Why Celebrated Film ‘The Artist’ Isn't Such a Hit at Home

[All links forward to French articles unless stated otherwise.]

In February 2012, French and world cinema history was made after five Oscars were awarded to the film The Artist and its leading actor Jean Dujardin (Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Picture, Best Costume Design and Best Original Score).

It is the first time a non-Anglo-Saxon film has won Oscars for both Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role. In France, however, the enthusiasm has not been so universal.

The launch of The Artist was in May 2011 during the 64th annual Cannes Film Festival. The film was very well received by both the jury and the public, with Jean Dujardin being given the Best Actor Award. And so began the film's winning international career; it has picked up more than 80 awards, including three Golden Globes, seven BAFTAs, six Césars, one Goya and five Oscars.

Photo from the official website of The Artist

Photo from the official website of The Artist

This Hollywood triumph has been greeted not only with great surprise in France, but also some confusion.

President Sarkozy, currently on his campaign for the 2012 presidential election, was one of the first politicians to congratulate the director on Twitter:

@NicolasSarkozy: Je présente mes félicitations à Michel Hazanavicius, Oscar du meilleur réalisateur pour The Artist, qui fait la fierté du cinéma français NS

@NicolasSarkozy: I send my congratulations to Michel Hazanavicius, Best Director Oscar for The Artist, for making French cinema proud.

Bernard Morlino considers Jean Dujardin to be cinema's Ballon d'Or 2012 ( editor's note: Ballon d'Or is the prize for the world's best football player of the year, a frequently used metaphor in France for an internationally recognized award) :

[…] The Artist est d’abord un film avant d’être la France. Cela dit, il en a fallu du temps pour que les Etats-Unis récompensent les Français qui ont inventé le cinéma par le biais des Frères Lumières, en 1895. Espérons que les récompensés gardent la tête froide et qu’ils restent humbles. The Artist permet que l’on parle en bien de la France, cela nous change du comportement dégradant des politichiens…[…]

[…] The Artist is a film first, and  a French film second. That being said, it has taken some time for France (home of the Lumière brothers, who invented cinema in 1895) to be rewarded by the United States. We hope that everyone can remain calm and humble in receiving these awards. The Artist allows France to be spoken about positively, which makes a welcome change from the subject of the degrading behaviour of our politicians…[…]

On the side of the film critics, arretsurimages comments in its press review that The Artist‘s success does not appear justified to all journalists, French and American alike. Some even think that it was “pure luck”:

«Je n'ai rien contre The Artist, qui est une charmante lettre d'amour au vieil Hollywood, réalisée avec habileté. Mais d'ici un an ou deux, on s'apercevra que c'était un pur coup de chance », écrivait lundi un journaliste du site culturel Salon. «Je suis sûr que la France est en pleine euphorie, mais tôt ou tard elle aura un moment de lucidité et se dira: de tous les films que nous avons faits depuis l'époque des Frères Lumière, c'est celui-ci qui a conquis Hollywood ?»”, ajoute Le Figaro.

“I don't have anything against The Artist, which plays like a charming love letter to old Hollywood and has been skilfully made. But a year or two from now we'll see that it was pure luck,” a journalist wrote for Salon, a cultural website. French newspaper Le Figaro adds, “I'm sure that the whole of France is overjoyed, but sooner or later there will be a moment of clarity and everyone will say, “Of all the films we've made since the Lumière brothers’ era, this is the one that conquered Hollywood?””

French people also know how to self-depracate. The photo from the film pictured above has been shared on French social networking sites, often accompanied by sarcastic comments:

Comme quoi, quand les Français ferment leur gueule, tout le monde les apprécie

It just goes to show that the whole world appreciates it when French people shut their faces.

On Twitter, the main criticism of the film is that its Frenchness is not apparent: a film that was not only shot in America about Hollywood, but that is also silent. Twitter users have a theory of seduction aimed at Americans:

@Lena: Sur 60 acteurs dans #TheArtist, 2 seulement sont Français , bravo le #cinéma français! 

@Lena: Out of 60 actors in #TheArtist, only 2 are French. Bravo, French cinema!

@PK16:  The Artist film typiquement français …mdr faut arrêter c'est un film américain fait par un français rien d'autre !

@PK16: The Artist is a typically French film… Lol, I need to stop. It's nothing more than an American film made by a French man!

@robocup555:  The Artist mérite bien ses 5 Oscars. Les français ont appris à faire d'excellents films américains. Celui là est le Top. Muet.Noir & blanc.

@robocup555: The Artist deserves its 5 Oscars. The French have learned to make excellent American films. This one is the best. Silent. Black and white.

@Just a boy:  Tout le monde aime Jean Dujardin, tout le monde est fier des oscars et content pour le cinéma Francais, mais aucun de nous a vu The Artist.

@Just a boy: The whole world loves Jean Dujardin, is proud of his Oscars and is happy for French cinema, but none of us have seen The Artist.

Nevertheless, wangyoann is there to remind us that The Artist‘s success is great and worldwide: the film even made the headlines in China:

"Les Oscars! Enivrés! Succès complet pour "The Artist"" -  via 内蒙晨报 Neimeng chen bao

"Les Oscars! Enivrés! Succès complet pour "The Artist"" – via 内蒙晨报 Neimeng chen bao

The Oscars! Exhilarating! Complete success for The Artist!

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