Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jean Dujardin is back -- OSS: LOST IN RIO and a short Q&A with the star

If the earlier venture of sexy French funnyman Jean Dujardin into super-spy territory didn't sate your satiric longings, OSS 117: LOST IN RIO provides yet another opportunity to see this would-be suave & debonair idiot in action.  And Monsieur Dujardin is indeed something to see.  Dark and lithe (a gifted physical come-
dian, he possesses a greater understan-
ding of the uses of the body -- for both heroics and humor -- than did Sean Connery, even in those early Bond films), he moves well and looks good, but then has the audacity to make terrific fun of himself and his character -- a French egotist of mammoth proportions.

Since his earlier film trounced the Arabs, this time Agent 117 performs the same actions on Israelis but the result seems not quite as funny as was the (only scattershot-successful) first attempt.  Still, Dujardin is extremely watchable, as are the locations and babes (this is the 60s, when women were all babes or Miss Moneypenny-type secretaries).  Director and co-writer Michel Hazanavicius, shown at left, together with his art director (Maamar Ech-Cheikh) and set decorator (Jimena Esteve) do a bang-up job of capturing the time period (clothes, cars, hairstyles).  As for the set pieces, there is one gem: a chase-scene-with-invalids set in a hospital that is truly hilarious (for awhile).

Because Lost in Rio offers even less "plot" (if you can call it that) than did Cairo, Nest of Vipers, and because the subsidiary characters are not particularly interesting (post-war neo-Nazis--shown above--now, there's something new!), the movie begins to drag.  At 101 minutes, it could have done without at least 15 of those.  And the current leading lady, Louise Monot (shown below, with Dujardin), is no match for the earlier film's adorably saucy Bérénice Bejo.  Otherwise, the movie offers enough expected laughs (and a couple of unexpected ones) to provide passable entertainment for the none-too-picky.

Music Box Films is distributing the sequel (as it did the original) which opens this Friday, May 7, in New York City, Los Angeles -- and Irvine, CA!  For all cities, theaters and performance dates in this limited national release, click here


We meet with Jean Dujardin, during his stay in New York City for the FSLC's Rendez-vous With French Cinema last March. With only a very few minutes to spend with the actor, and some of those taken up with the process of translation from French to English and back again, via the excellent translator Robert Gray, we decide to spend our time talking about what lies ahead for this talented actor and comedian.  In the interview below, TrustMovies is in boldface, while Jean Dujardin is in standard type.

At the luncheon yesterday at the French Embassy Cultural Services, I wouldn’t have recognized you if my life depended on it -- until somebody at the table mentioned that you were had arrived.  I said, “No, he hasn’t come in yet, because I’ve been watching.” Not only did I not recognize you, the French ladies at the table with me who were also looking for you didn’t recognize you, either -- perhaps because we have only seen you in movies like this OSS series?  I realize that actors are very capable of this kind of appearance-change. But that makes me think, once again, what I thought when I first saw you in the earlier OSS film: “This guy is very smart. You can’t act a character this dumb unless you really know what you’re doing.” Which makes me think that you are capable of so much more than we in America have seen yet.

Maybe I am just schizophrenic? (We laugh)

I’ll accept that.

I don’t really “theoreticize” much about my work as can actor. I am much more instinctive and spontaneous. I try to make myself available; I try to open myself up to what is possible. I also try to disconnect from myself and then create a new character. Nonetheless, while I don’t try to analyze that much, I do think all this comes from my childhood and teenage years. Also from my own complexes and weaknesses. Perhaps I did not feel that important or that I had that much substance as a child. When I started in this career, I felt better, weightier -- that I really was someone. This gave me more substance. And things happened like that without my having to think so much about them.

I used to act when I was much younger -- on stage, not on film.  But I remember feeling just as you said: this gave me a sense of strength that I did not have before.

At yesterday’s French luncheon, the women at my table told me that you had made or are making now a new movie that in some way deals with the Holocaust, and what happened to the French during that time. Could you talk about this? It make me think that now, we’ll be seeing much more of Jean Dujardin and what he is capable of.

There is, in fact, a film that was recently shot about the Holocaust, similar to Joseph Losey’s Mr Klein. Jean Reno has just acted in that film, but I was not in that one. It’s the only French film I can imagine that they might have meant.

It would be arrogant of me to say that that yes I will become a much bigger actor, but at the same time, I did just finish a film directed by Nicole Garcia, which is of a much more classical film in the French tradition, and I also made another with Betrand Blier, who won the Oscar for Get Out Your Handkerchiefs. Obviously these are very different roles. So at this point, I am trying to open myself up,  to free myself from my timidity and hangups. I feel myself less of an imposter than before – gaining in assurance and opening up to new possibilities.

I would love to work here in the US, where now I feel only a tourist. But at this point, I step into Times Square and look around with the sense and excitement of a child. It would be wonderful to work here, but at this point it would be a happy accident.

Have the success of Brice de Nice and the OSS films has given you enough financial security that you will be able to pick an choose roles? I mean, that you will continue to do popular comedies but also choose some different or unusual roles, the way Bruce Willis, Richard Gere and George Clooney have done, so that they balance their blockbusters with small, weird and interesting little films.

Yes, absolutely. This is not only a possibility but it is my responsibility as an actor. I don’t really see myself as “bankable,” but if my name would allow films to be made that would not be otherwise, then I am all for this. As odd as it may sound, Bertrand Blier -- who is a huge genius of film -- it is still very difficult for him to get financing for his films. So if I am able to help him do this, that is wonderful. It is so rare that you get filmmakers of this talent and stories of this quality that have to be told. Someone like George Clooney alternates in the way you say, and he always takes us by surprise. He works on huge blockbusters an then films something like Syriana. He is renewing himself and keeping himself interested and never growing bored. The main thing about acting is to last. It is a long-term profession. But it is true that in my field, money gives you real freedom.

Do you think that in France, type-casting is as strong as it is over here? So that it is hard to break out from behind the mask that you initially create and then be able to do something different?

Yes. That can happen: People become typecast and prisoners of that model. But it also depends on the actors and artists involved, who stay in a certain role, mine that role and give audiences what they expect of them. But from very early on, I have let people know – audiences and journalists – that I am seeking change, that I want to change and will not allow audiences to keep seeing me in only a certain type of role. This is part of my job as an actor, to explore different parts of myself. It is true that when you see an actor who is known for comedy to suddenly do a drama, then people have a tendency to say that this is -- what is the phrase? -- “casting against type.”  This is how I see it. I try to do this. I see the exam-
ples of people from our past like Lino Ventura or Belmondo who could work as easily with de Broca as with Melville. So you don’t have to be a prisoner of the box-office. I think our audiences are smart enough to follow me in different directions, as well.

That’s all the time we have, so we thank Jean and his translator for 
their time and head out to the next Rendez-vous film.

(All photos are from the film, except that of director Hazanavicius, 
and that of M. Dujardin that leads off the interview portion above.)

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