The French-directed film, which has won a string of US awards over the last two months, is joined by Martin Scorsese’s Paris-based “Hugo” and Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” both also nominated for best picture Oscar.
“A Cat in Paris” by French director Jean-Loup Felicioli is also up for best animated film Oscar, against Hollywood animated giants “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Puss in Boots,” “Rango,” as well as Spain’s “Chico & Rita,”
Backed by awards campaign veteran Harvey Weinstein, “The Artist” is a tribute to Hollywood’s silent era and was made at Warner and Paramount studios — but it is 100 percent French financed.
To keep control over the film, producer Thomas Langmann and his company “La Petite Reine” (Little Queen) created a US subsidiary, Barbes Brothers, which managed the filming in the US, before returning to France for post production.
Filmed between September and November 2010 with an estimated budget of just over nine million euros ($11.7 million), “The Artist” is silent for the movie-goer, but wasn’t on set of course — and there was some hesitation about which language to speak.
“At the start we didn’t know if the financing given by the (French) national center for cinematography would require the use of French, so just in case all the French actors spoke French,” said Antoine de Cazotte, head of Barbes Brothers in Los Angeles.
“But it didn’t make any sense, since the film is supposed to be set in Hollywood and some of the cast are English-speaking. So we switched to English and sometimes… in an invented language,” he added.
For the Oscars, a film’s language or its nationality don’t determine whether it can be nominated, although in practice most movies shortlisted and given prizes are from English-speaking countries.
The rules stipulate that films from all countries are eligible in all categories, as long as they have run in theaters in Los Angeles for at least seven days before December 31 of the year preceding the Oscars ceremony, and that they were screened with English sub-titles if necessary.
“The Artist” is distributed in the US by The Weinstein Company, past masters of Oscars campaigns — last year’s best picture winner “The King’s Speech” was one of theirs — and they gave the French film their best treatment.
“Harvey Weinstein did incredible work. The way he has of… presenting the film in the best way, with the right timing, is very powerful,” the film’s director Michel Hazanavicius told AFP after it won best film at the Golden Globes earlier this month.
To highlight the movie, its cast and crew have attended endless publicity and other events in Hollywood, interviewed in the industry press and on television, in a campaign which has resulted in the film’s Oscars favourite status.
“Once he has established a strategy, he really provides the resources to implement it. And the Oscars campaign is completely part of his plan, I think, for the film to be a success,” added the director.
Hazanavicius can be especially proud: Weinstein, known for insisting on changes in films before he agrees to distribute them, did not touch “The Artist.”
“He didn’t take out a single frame. He didn’t change a note of music, nor the poster nor the trailer. He told me: ‘The only fault with this film is that there’s nothing for me to change’.