The meteoric and unexpected ascent of French actor Jean Dujardin.
It is said that Jean Dujardin, a trained locksmith and son of wealthy parents, developed his acting talent during military service, which was a great source of inspiration to him. It is also said, that it was prophesized that a successful acting career would probably be impossible for him to embrace, his mimics being all too expressive. However, it was precisely these expressive mimics that made Dujardin perfect for “The Artist”, a French silent movie that just won five Oscars, including Best Actor for Dujardin.
France must have been truly surprised to see one of its leading pranksters become a serious actor and Hollywood star and, that too, in a silent role. While a large segment of the over-45-year-olds must not have taken previous notice of him, most of the younger French got to know Jean first through the French adaptation of the series “Un gars une fille”. This was one of the most successful Quebec TV-series by Guy A. Lepage, and took place around the everyday lives of a young couple. Guy, himself playing Guy, lives with Sylvie, played by Sylvie Léonard, the concept being to use the actors’ real world names. The couple go to the convenience store, cook a meal or leave town for a weekend, they go gambling and even get married, all the way flirting while addressing each other with whacky pet-names, getting on each others’ nerves or making silly jokes.
The series is filmed in amateur video style, focusing on the two main characters alone by cutting just about everyone else out. Its design is typical ‘90s kitsch, with flashy blue and pink graphic inserts accompanied by synthesizer sound and featuring a supplementary (misspelled) blackboard-announcement, which introduces new chapters into the series as it goes. The show was adapted by national French television France 2 and was shortened to about seven minutes per episode, a format largely appreciated by the French public. After a difficult start, the series soon gained cult status and was watched by every third viewer daily. In France, the main characters are called Jean and Alex, starring Jean Dujardin and Alexandra Lamy, who after the series became his wife in real life.
Around the same time, Jean Dujardin and his humorous acting group “Nous C Nous”, with whom he performed in bars and in the Theatre du Carré Blanc in Paris, invented the no less spectacular character of “Brice de Nice“. Brice is more or less a cool skater, who by the way, has trouble skating and may be described as a modern scallywag. He is impolite, dumb, has long blonde hair, wears an eternally yellow T-Shirt with his own logo, a shark tooth probably indicating his true destiny (surfing), and is extremely conscious of his, as he believes, incredibly appealing personality. Everybody else is bunkum to his eyes and he behaves in consequence, which results in outrageous but hilarious insults and his famous “ça-casse” move.
The latter is a seemingly cool surfer-move, expressing Brice’s condescending non-approval of anybody else’s attitude. And Brice loves to “diss” anybody who crosses his way – “casser” is a French expression for putting somebody down with words, but also simply means “to break” in Brice’s own surprising way. For instance, he’d order a crêpe, pay for it and run off in triumph, fooling the crêpe-vendor by not taking it along. He’d break a flower pot simply to demonstrate in what multiple ways one can “casser” or he’d tell a girl, who clearly didn’t care, that she wasn’t beautiful. He would then laugh at his own witty ideas. The sketches were such a hit, that a film running by the same title was produced in 2005. It was the story of a pathetic surfer, living off his wealthy father’s money, expecting The Wave to hit the smooth Mediterranean Baie des Anges, a location far from being renowned as a surf spot. When The Wave unexpectedly appears, Brice rides it like a star (right after lamentably failing a surf competition elsewhere) and then meets his feminine alter ego Alice de Nice – playedby Alexandra Lamy once again, who appears as a mermaid and by whom he (!) gets pregnant, as that’s the way mermaids get children. The movie was quite a success, especially amongst those who were already fans and watched his clips on the Internet. However it also marked the end of an era.
Indeed, Jean Dujardin had become a true actor, capable of entertaining the masses in the common 90-minute format. For the moment, the comedy genre seemed to be the one where he’d earn his greatest marks. Thus it came as no surprise when he was nominated to the 2007 Césars for his role as a dandy and secret-agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath in the 2006 “OSS 117 – Le Caire, nid d’espions”, a parody of earlier OSS117 movie adaptions that were popular from the 1950’s till the 1970’s. In its follow-up from 2009 he then co-starred with Jean-Paul Belmondo. In 2007 Jean Dujardin appeared in his first truly dramatic role in “Contre Enquete”, where he brilliantly played a police officer and tormented father of a murdered child. Different more or less successful productions followed. In 2009 he received an invitation to officially play in the big league, by appearing in the minor role of Ludo in “Les petits mouchoirs” – a melodramatic get-together of current Grandseigneurs of French cinema. Ludo has an accident in the first couple of minutes of the movie and spends the rest of the time in hospital where he finally dies before his buddies get back from vacations.
No one could have imagined that Dujardin would go on to win an Oscar. His role-play in The Artist was breath taking. While his winner’s smile in the first part of the movie was easily recognizable, his dramatic mime of yesterday’s tormented star was even more impressive. Who would have thought him capable of conveying such emotions ten years ago?
In Hollywood, the stress of the competition could be felt in the air. Awaiting the awards for The Artist, the all too explicit poster for Dujardin’s next movie “Les Infideles”, was hastily changed all around Paris, officially on the request of a feminist group, but more likely in order to avoid appalling the more puritan American public and diminishing Jean’s chances of winning an Oscar. Now he has won and we are eager to follow up on the on-going adventure.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.