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|Also Known As:||Died:|
|Born:||March 29, 1967||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||France||Profession:||Director ...|
A gifted comic writer and director in his native France, Michel Hazanavicius parlayed his skill at parodying past film genres and conventions with the spy spoof "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" (2006) before capturing international audiences' attention with "The Artist" (2011), a loving tribute to Hollywood's silent film era. Hazanavicius developed a cult following through a trio of "diversions," comic experiments that took footage from Hollywood films and television, then redubbed and edited them into dizzyingly surreal comedies. He soon graduated to feature films, where he struck gold with "OSS 117" and its 2009 sequel, both starring comic actor Jean Dujardin as a hapless '60s-era spy. The pair reunited in 2011 for "The Artist," a completely silent black-and-white film about a 1920s-era star on the decline; it won acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival that year before storming international theaters and ultimately garnering Hazanavicius a Best Director Academy Award and his film, a win for Best Picture. Its global success was an appropriate showcase for Hazanavicius' talents, as well as a terrific calling card for his potential as a filmmaker in America.
Born on March 29, 1967 in Paris, France, Michel Hazanavicius began his career in the late 1980s writing sketches for the comedy troupe "Les Nuis ("The Dummies") on the French pay television channel Canal+. In 1992, he directed the offbeat short "Derrick contre Superman" ("Derrick vs. Superman") (1992), a redubbed mash-up of shorts comprised of footage from various American and European television shows constructed around a story about an inept detective's attempt to launch his own television network. "Derrick" established Hazanavicius' knack for paying tribute to entertainment from the past while also playfully tweaking its excesses and foibles. He took a similar approach to his next two efforts: the full-length "Ca détourne" ("It Diverts") (Canal+, 1992) and a broad spoof of "Citizen Kane" (1940) called "Le classe américaine" ("The American Class") (Canal+, 1993), which made extensive use of clips from the Warner Bros. film library. During this period, Hazanavicius also directed numerous television commercials for companies like Reebok.
In the late '90s and early 2000, Hazanavicius focused largely on writing comedies for actor Yvan Attal like "Delphine 1, Yvan 0" (1996), which depicted a couple's relationship as similar to a sporting match, complete with commentators. In 1999, he made his feature directorial debut with "Mes amis," a comic caper film with Attal and Hazanavicius' brother, Serge. Advertising work kept him busy for the next few years, save for an occasional turn as an actor in features like "My Wife is an Actress" (2001) with Attal and his spouse, actress-singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. But in 2004, he returned with a co-scripting credit on "Les Dalton," a Western comedy based on the popular French comic strip "Lucky Luke." Among its cast was television comedian Jean Dujardin, with whom Hazanavicius would begin a fruitful collaborative relationship.
Dujardin starred with Hazanavicius' wife, Argentine actress Berenice Bejo, in the director's "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" (2006), a spoof of the '60s espionage novels by Jean Bruce, which spawned several film adaptations in the 1960s. Hazanavicius' take was decidedly tongue-in-cheek, with Dujardin playing the agent OSS 117 as a buffoon, but critics were effusive in their praise of his slavish attention to period detail, including pastiches of cinematic elements like obvious rear projection in driving sequences. A popular film at the box office and at film festivals around the world, it generated a sequel, also with Dujardin, titled "OSS 117: Lost in Rio" (2009), which featured a reprise of his archival footage gags in clips from "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952) and "OSS 117" films from the 1960s.
The success of the "OSS 117" films allowed Hazanavicius to commence work on a long-gestating dream project: a silent film that would pay tribute to the pioneering filmmakers of the 1920s while exercising his interest in a feature driven more by image than dialogue. The silent project also allowed him to reunite Dujardin and Bejo, who had shown enormous chemistry in "Cairo, Nest of Spies." After extensive research into Hollywood melodramas of the Jazz Age, Hazanavicius wrote and directed "The Artist" (2011), a charming fable about a vain leading man (Dujardin) whose career goes into decline with the rise of "talking pictures" and performers like Bejo's bubbly ingénue. Shot partially on location in Los Angeles with American actors like John Goodman, James Cromwell and Malcolm McDowell in the cast, "The Artist" was a sweet valentine to the glitzy screen spectacles of the past, complete with a show-stopping dance number entirely performed by Dujardin and Bejo. A smash at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Palme D'Or and won the Best Actor prize for Dujardin, "The Artist" was quickly snapped up or distribution in America, where it opened to rave reviews in November 2011. It went on to claim top prizes at several significant international festivals, while Hazanavicius himself received a 2012 Independent Spirit Award for Best Director, which was quickly followed by Oscar wins for Best Director and Best Picture.
By Paul Gaita
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