Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
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FEBRUARY 27, 2012 8:57AM

Jean Dujardin, the Oscars, and France

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Those of you lucky enough to catch the Oscars last night (here in France they were only aired on a pay cable channel that we don’t have…sigh….) probably saw the funny, handsome Frenchman Jean Dujardin win Best Actor for his role in The Artist.

As he accepted his award, Dujardin’s exuberance wasn’t surprising. But France’s reaction to his nomination and subsequent win, is. 

Over the weekend, his chances at getting the Oscar was the topic of the feature story on just about any news program.  For weeks, online articles about Dujardin, including ones promoting his latest film, Les Infidèles, were loaded with comments from readers like “Go Dujardin!”  or “Best of luck, Jean!”  

In some countries, showing support for a compatriot, be it for an acting award, a sporting event, or otherwise, is pretty standard. But in France, it’s not the norm.  I’ve often written that, by and large, the French character has a tendency towards cynicism and negativity.  For me, Cyrano de Bergerac is a perfect example of the French attitude: he’s brave, intelligent, and romantic, but he hides his vulnerability behind wit, self-deprecation, and even anger.  When the French talk about athletes representing them at the Olympics, for example, they usually focus on the bad performances.  Every pratfall, every error, every elimination evokes an expression from many of them – not the “Oh no!” that most of us would say, but “Ah bon, voilà, à la française.” ("Ah, there you go, that’s the French way.").  

So why was there all this positivity and encouragement for Jean Dujardin, an unknown actor in America up against the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt?

Although he wasn’t known in the US before The Artist, Dujardin is not only a successful actor in France, he’s regularly voted one of the country’s best-loved personalities.  Born in 1972 in a wealthy suburb outside Paris, Dujardin was going to go into the family locksmith business, but something didn’t feel right to him. He ended up following his heart and started doing stand-up and sketch comedy, creating characters like Brice de Nice (Brice from Nice), a loser would-be surfer (with its coast on the calm waters of the Mediterranean, Nice isn’t exactly a mecca for catching waves).  Dujardin also appeared on the show Graines de star (roughly similar to X Factor), which he won several times in the late ‘90’s. 
As Brice de Nice on "Graines de Star" (image source
But his breakthrough would come in 1999, when he was chosen to play the male half of a typical modern French couple in the comedy sketch series Un gars, une fille (A guy, a girl).  The show is genuinely funny and completely relatable, and it’s not surprising that it took off and became a wild success.  Although it ended in 2003, reruns are still aired on several channels here, and people (myself very much included) still happily tune in. 
With Alexandra Lamy in a scene from the series "Un gars, une fille" (image source)
The series wasn't just a turning point in Dujardin’s life because it made him famous.  If you’ve watched any awards shows this year, you’ve probably seen that Dujardin is often accompanied by his wife.  Her name is Alexandra Lamy, and she played the fille in Un gars, une fille.  When the two started filming, they were both in serious relationships with other people.  But onscreen, their attraction and affection towards each other is almost palpable.  It felt so natural that you could think they really had been together since the start of the show.  In the end, unable to deny their feelings, they broke up with their respective partners, and have been together ever since.  Both are still acting, so they regularly appear together in public, but their three children (from their previous relationships) are out of the spotlight.  I can’t help but respect that. 
After more than six years together, the couple tied the knot in 2009. (image source
After Un gars, une fille, Jean Dujardin continued playing comedic parts, although now, producers were willing to bet on him as a leading man in film roles.  He made a movie adaptation of his “Brice de Nice” character that was a huge success, and also starred in two movies as the agent OSS 117 (the second of which was directed by The Artist’s writer/director Michel Hazanavicius), sort of the French equivalent of the Austin Powers films.  But Dujardin surprised his fans by taking on serious roles in suspense thrillers and dramas as well.  In Contre-enquête, one of his first serious films, he played a police officer investigating the rape and murder of his young daughter.  In Le Bruit des glaçons, he stars as a man dying of cancer, who meets an embodiment of his disease.  He also starred in an edgy, hilarious adaptation of Frédéric Beigbeder (one of my favorite contemporary French writers - sort of a modern French Oscar Wilde, with lots of drugs and sex added in)’s book 99 Francs, a lurid look at the world of advertising. 


Drama and suspense in "Contre-enquete" (image source)  
 Darkly comedic in "99 Francs" (image source)

By the time The Artist came out here, no one was surprised that Jean Dujardin had chosen another unusual, challenging role.  Still, he did it so well that he took our breaths away. His Palme d’Or at Cannes last May was the first in a series of awards leading, of course, to the Oscar, which even outside America is seen as la crème de la crème. 

Whether he’s a guy in a typical couple, a ridiculous surfer, a silly spy, a father dealing with the loss of his daughter, or a silent film star about to lose everything, there’s a glimmer of the everyman in Jean Dujardin, and I think that’s what makes his success mean so much to the French.  In him, they see something of themselves.  His failures are their failures, understandable, regrettable, not something to mock.  And his successes are something the whole country feels like they’ve won.  Even Dujardin’s fellow actors have expressed nothing but encouragement for him. In recent weeks, at just about every premier or celebrity interview here, the question of his chances at the Oscar have come up, and I haven’t heard a single person make a rude or cynical comment about the guy or his nomination. 

Today, as the French celebrate Dujardin’s victory, I think in a way it feels like a shared award.  Add to this the incredible bonus of The Artist winning Best Picture, and there's a downright gleefulness in the air.  It’s a beautiful moment, and ephemeral:  In a few months, the Eurovision song contest will come and most likely the French will lose.  Then it will be the Olympics where, no matter how many medals they earn, they’ll still jeer at and feel secretly let down by every misstep and loss made by a French athlete.  I’m savoring the feeling of happy pride here today; this kind of vibe is almost as rare as a Frenchman winning the Best Actor Oscar.    
oscar 2012
A version of this article also appeared on HamletHub Westport 

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Alysa, wow, I knew nothing about Dujardin, and admit to not seeing any of the nominated films. Watched about 20 minutes of the Academy Awards last night to see Billy Crystal. Thank you for this background/bio on Dujardin. So informative and well-written.
Thanks, Alysa.

Glad the members of the academy was able to get past all the anti-Franco nonsense that seems to have gripped our nation in recent years.

Still haven't seen the picture (Nancy and I don't go to movies often), but we almost always go see the Best Picture flick soon after the awards.

Great post.
Thank you for this inside glimpse into the career of Dujardin. I thoroughly enjoyed The Artist and now have a greater appreciation for how he got to that point. Thank you, Alysa. R
Alysa.. I am in the minority and do not care for the film but I love him.
I knew nothing about him so well done ma fille.
I fell a little in love with Jean Dujardin last night, so it's nice to know the French are cheering for him too. I really enjoyed this piece and came away with a little more insight into the differences between the French and the ugly Americans. At least we can agree on Dujardin.
What a terrific, informative read and so lovingly done. I was rooting for Du Jardin and the Artist last night. No other performance moved me so, and the fact that he did everything in silence...well, that made it all the more impressive. If only for you, I too am glad the French have something to smile about.
This is a wonderful write-up, Alysa. I can't praise Dujardin's performance in The Artist enough. He had a charisma that was undeniable and you couldn't take your eyes off him when he was on screen. So glad to hear that the French suppressed their normal cynicism to give him support.
So that's who he is. Quite handsome. I didn't see the movie, yet, so I was rooting for Gary Oldman. Oh well.
Alysa ~ thanks for the fascinating look why Dujardin is appreciated in a way that other celebrities in France are not. I wasn't aware of this before reading your post but I am always interested to see why one person is admired in a special way. I also knew little about him so I learned a lot of background here, too.
Congrats to Dujardin and The Artist. Truffaut could only manage a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar with Day For Night (La nuit américaine). Jean Gabin couldn't even get himself nominated for an Oscar. Losers.
Magnifique, Alysa! (Hope I spelled that right, haha.) So interesting to get an inside peek into Dujardin. His exuberance was so refreshing.
Thanks for the delightful bio. Should be headline fare stateside today. I'll check out his other films, too.
Wow, fascinating! I had no idea.
Wow. This is interesting. This talk of suspension of French cynicism is a little scarry. What might happen next? Will we someday soon see Parisiens smiling whenm they think no one else is looking.

I shall flourish my next "freedom fry" in salute to M. Dujardin!
Thanks for putting some humanity behind this name, Dujardin,
Which sounds like a fancy French mustard to me.
Your continued explorations into the French psyche fascinate me.
“cyrano de Bergerac is a perfect example of the French attitude: he’s brave, intelligent, and romantic, but he hides his vulnerability behind wit, self-deprecation, and even anger.”

Anger is against what? I love wit and selfdeprecation, for “self” ultimately does not exist..

I am no Francophile. Nor am I an Anglophile . more a Germanophile.
As you can tell from my ponderous reasonings…………
The more I hear about my ancestral land the prouder I get.
Except for the insanity. Ww1 &2.
Comedy is the way to combat such merciless aggression.
Aggression can be filtered through comedy.
I hope that this is what will happen: everyone will someday wake up & see what an absurd world it is.

I saw his acceptance . very real emotion. Glad France has the chance to cheer.

The white elephant in the room is: why the hell do we put our identity and well-being into the figure of a celebrity? I think: ah, there have always been celebreties, since day one.

I was rooting for Clooney. He did a good job in Descendants.
Very informative post and background info about Dujardin.

Here's a piece a trivia:

Un Gars, une fille is based on the very successful and popular Quebec show of the same name (now only on DVD):

Un gars, une fille (Radio-Canada)

The concept of show was sold to several countries (and was adapted in many different languages). The website lists 21 in total and, apparently, the show holds the record for the largest number of scripts (or rights to use the original premise of the scripted show) sold around the world.
Oops: The concept of the show...
Aarrg: ...piece of trivia...
Thanks for telling us more about this interesting actor. I didn't see The Artist (or any of this year's nominations), but from clips and such, it looked marvelous. Obviously Dujardin was the man to get the Oscar.
I wasn't turned on by the film itself, and felt that it is just a novelty. A well-done one to be sure, but no way it could be Best Picture. Dujardin himself was excellent. I heard an NPR commenter say it was made by a bunch of unknowns..... John Goodman, too? The most charming scene was the last one, where he speaks, "of course, weez great plaizure."
This reminds me of the rise of Antonio Banderas. He was an international star before mainstream United States discovered him, and had had many critically acclaimed films in Spain before he moved stateside. ... Love Dujardin's looks, classically French and -- ooh la la -- very handsome.
Erica K – Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed this, and I hope you enjoyed the bit of the Oscars you watched – I am still so bummed that I couldn’t watch the ceremony here!

Frank – I’m glad of that, too, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you guys think about the movie. To me, it wasn’t the best film nominated, though in terms of technique, directing, and acting, it was brilliant. But a film that I found completely engrossing was “The Descendants.” I would have preferred that as Best Picture.

Rita – Thanks, and I’m also very happy that “The Artist” ‘s music was awarded, especially after reading your wonderful post about that.

Linda – We do indeed have so much in common! Why am I still surprised when something else we agree on comes up? I enjoyed “The Artist,” and admired it for its quality, but I thought “The Descendants” had a better story and more subtly drawn characters. I wanted that to win Best Picture, with “The Artist” getting many other nods, including Best Actor for Jean Dujardin, who I really think is incredibly talented. Oh well, at least “The Descendants” got a screenplay nod!

jlsathre – I also adore Monsieur Dujardin and am so glad he’s seducing fellow females across the pond!

BSB – Thanks. I really was just so proud of Jean Dujardin for taking on the role – and yet, as soon as I found out about it, something told me he’d be really good at it. I’m so glad I wasn’t wrong. Also, I love when you write about celebrities and pop culture – are you planning to write anything about the Oscars? I dearly hope so!

Cranky – Thank you so much – I loved your piece on the Oscar nominees! I’m also really happy that the French could be so supportive and enthusiastic of Dujardin – he seems capable of evoking emotions even in real life.

Sarah – I haven’t seen “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (called more simply “La Taupe” (The Mole) here in France – they LOVE concision), but I think Gary Oldman is amazingly talented and wouldn’t have been upset to see him win just because I bet he rocked that role. I promise Jean Dujardin isn’t only handsome,though – he really is talented, too!

designanator – It is surprising and I think that a lot of it is just a natural charisma and modesty, along with a great sense of humor. I hope he’ll stay as grounded now that he’s won an Oscar. He claims he wants to stay and work in France, but we’ll see….

Stim – Haha! Losers indeed! :-p

Sally – Merci! I really hope Dujardin never loses that spark.

Steve – Thanks. If you can understand French, I would especially recommend “99 Francs” – it’s one of the boyfriend and my favorite movies!

Cedar – Thanks!

steve – Thank you for the freedom fry flourish!

James – I think we often need a figure to relate to, and today’s tend to be celebrities for most people. As for a culture to be a fan of, I have no particular one, having found flaws in all of them. I think there are great aspects of each culture, too, though. The German I most relate to is Ludwig II. As for “The Descendants”, I really enjoyed that one, too and think it should have gotten Best Picture, but “The Artist” was pitch perfect and really quality filmmaking, too, so I don’t feel awful. And I’m thrilled that the screenwriters of “The Descendants” got an award. They very much deserved it – how brilliantly written were those characters!

Kanuk – I knew that “Un gars, une fille” was originally a Canadian show, but I had no idea it had been developed in countries other than France! I understand, though: it’s such a great, universal concept.

Miguela – He definitely was amazing in the role. I’m so thrilled he got the award! If you get a chance to see it, “The Artist” is definitely worth watching, although as I’ve written above, I found “The Descendants” to be a better film in terms of character study.
ordinaryjoe – I agree it was gimmicky, but well done, even so, I thought. It was kind of like a historical reenactment of a silent film, and that made it fun. But as I’ve written, I felt that in terms of story and characters, “The Descendants” was a better film and was my personal pick for Best Picture. What I do hope with “The Artist”’s success (as well as “Hugo” ‘s) is that it spurs an interest in early cinema, and also gives courage and inspiration to filmmakers, producers, and studio execs to take more risks.

Deborah – Wow, I hadn’t thought about that! If Dujardin does choose to have a more international career, I hope he’ll be involved in projects half as cool as many that Banderas has done!
Fascinating backstory, Alysa. He was completely unknown to me until I saw him before the show started last night in a red carpet interview. Seemed likable. I worked with a reporter here with the same last name. Only other time I've seen that name.
alysa: ok. I accept yr judgments. Am mired now in which actresses dressed best. this is dire stuff, i hear tell.
(tv entertainment show on that takes this shit seriously)
I have no clue as to why this might be important.
But I still admire em. The gals. In their gowns or whatever.
I may save up my money and get a gown.
It will be size I dunno , one or two?
Keep it in my closet for the perfect chick.
Watch her try to squeeze into it, with her REAL feminine curves etc.
Tell her: oh you cannot fit into gown,no?
She: sir, I cannot.
Me: well we shall take it to my tailor to adjust it for you.
She:: sorry I gotta be such a damn girly curvy inconvenience, sir.
Me:all is forgiven

That is my phantasy. Haw.
Chicken Maaan - He really is a likeable guy. The last name means "of the garden", and a popular joke here in France is to call him "Jean Of The Garden" when he's in the US at an awards ceremony.

James - When it comes to clothes, they always say to buy smaller than a woman's actual size, so that she thinks you think she looks slim. But I personally find it frustrating if I can't fit into something - and I'd especially be sad if I couldn't get into a lovely gown! Could you speak with a dressmaker, then have a life-sized image of the dress in your closet, and then tell the girl you'll get it made specially for her? That would be one heck of a gift!
You make me want to see this movie. You don't think of the french ever being hilariously funny. Now, you've got me real curious about this guy. Cool review.
a, i suppose i could do that. it would be expensive
but worth it. a gal fitting seamlessly and without pinches
into her beautiful gown sounds like a recipe for a heck of a night
out on the town.

well there is cameon diaz again. like she gives a shit about this.
but she is rich and can afford to have some fun.

the 2012 oscars were a smashing suck-sess, say my sources.
all the babes are on display, none of them revealing too much.
mill jovovich is a classy gal, i think.
alot of innocence still in there.
helps her acting.

when i am awarded best director ,
i shall wear what i wear every day.
jeans, t shirt, and overcoat. black. but what about the hat/
wear it to the podium. take it on & off chaplinesque.
say something immensely important in elliptical terms.


what do ye think?
I haven't seen the movie and I didn't watch the Oscars. But when I heard the news, I was SO hoping that you'd write about how the French were reacting. Yay! Thanks for another great piece and well-deserved EP.
agree, he was magnifique!
Alysa, I am a complete, unabashed Francophile. They have the attitude that we can begin to understand -- but can not permeate beyond the outer membrane, it would seem. I had lived there many years ago, when things were in the streets and the world was set against the US. But there, I was welcomed. I do not think that Americans realize that they value freedom to a degree that we just barely get. If you have ever seen, ''Loved by Jerks", which deals with the trial of a French satirical piece on Muslim intolerance. It is absolutely a brilliant documentary. The French are passionate about defending the freedom of press issue, as well as the overreacting Muslim cadre taking offense.
Your description of Dujardin is really strong on telling us how they react to success. The guy worked hard to get to where he's appreciated. I have to feel that it will always be a bit different there and for good reason. I will definitely look into your ''Beguile". Thanks for sharing. Well done.
I saw the movie last week, and thought he and Berenice were delightful. He earned the trophy, (and the little dog too!), and I was happy to see him so genuinely thrilled. Let's hope he doesn't move to LA...
Three of the top movies were related to France and fame and film- Hugo, Midnight in Paris, and The Artist. Perhaps it is the french year after all.
I'm always amazed at how much is going on in Europe and the rest of the world that we here in the U.S. know nothing about. My local paper no longer carries any foreign news--I guess they figured the Tennessee rednecks don't need to know anything about those effete French...Thanks for a great article about someone we knew nothing about!
I am glad the French have put aside their usual cynicism to enjoy the success of Dujardin. It must have been incredibly challenging for you (or any American) to settle into the French way of life. But thank goodness you did; we are benefiting greatly from your dual perspectives.

I am a big fan, and so glad he won. The film itself melted away the cynicism of the audience when I saw it. It's so rare to feel that kind of unity in the theater.
Great profile, thank you Alysa, Jean Dujardin´s versatility seems to be at the core of his strength as an actor, I´m glad that paid off for him so well in the Artist.
Now I cannot wait to see "The Artist!" The French may mope about some, but they've always got France. (You too, lucky one.)
I thought everybody in France was already having an affair--do they have time for one more?
I love stars like this who have played the game all the way to the topI am sure there in nothing like being a French star either. Thanks for sharing this info.
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Inspired by Linda S.
Thank you for that commentary and background on an interesting performer, I will have to see "The Artist" now!
Its nice to know so sound-full about the star which is recognise for his silent acting . Monsieur Jean Dejardin deserve the Oscars ,and Mademoiselle Alysa you deserve my applause to post this valuable post
Don't know much about history; don't know much biology; don't know much about a science book; don't know much about the French I took; but I do know that I love . . .

your articles.

(Apologies to Sam Cooke.)
I'm coming to this party very late. :) Loved your article -- ironically, I had learned about Brice de Nice when Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens goalie, used the "meme" as the basis for his All-Star campaign video. I watched it, loved it (byebye little lobster!), but somehow didn't connect the actor in "Brice" with the star of The Artist when I saw it.

He's adorable, and while I know he's a wonderful actor, the emotion in his voice when he told Ms. Lamy he loved her and sent bisous to their kids was so real. I wish him all kinds of success in the future!