Michel Hazanavicius wins directing Oscar for "The Artist"

LOS ANGELES Mon Feb 27, 2012 6:21pm EST

1 of 2. French Director Michel Hazanavicius kisses his wife Berenice Bejo after winning the Oscar for best director for his film ''The Artist'' at the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Hershorn

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius won the Oscar for best directing on Sunday for "The Artist," a homage to Hollywood's silent era that starred the filmmaker's wife.

The silent, black-and-white movie which also took the best picture award focuses on a fading star who finds redemption through the love of a woman just as silent movies are being taken over by talkies.

It was Hazanavicius' first Oscar nomination and his first win. He also won the BAFTA and Directors Guild prizes for "The Artist," which he also wrote.

"I am the happiest director in the world right now, thank you for that," Hazanavicius said.

Hazanavicius, who was largely unknown in the United States before "The Artist," beat a pair of Hollywood heavyweights in best director nominees Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen.

As it happens, both of those filmmakers were nominated for films set in France, as the European country's movie industry enjoyed a breakthrough year at the Oscars.

Prior to "The Artist," Hazanavicius' work in film and television was mostly confined to the French market. He began directing commercials for French television during the 1990s before making his first feature-length movie, "Mes Amis," which starred his brother Serge.

Hazanavicius, 44, made his first steps into the international film world in 2006 with "OSS 17: Cairo, Nest of Spies," a parody of 1960s spy movies that he wrote and directed.

"The Artist", which Hazanavicius has described as a tribute to the early days of Hollywood, received a warm reception at the Cannes Film Festival last year and went on to wow film festival audiences around the world.

Hazanavicius' wife, Berenice Bejo, plays rising star Peppy Miller in the movie. He turned to kiss Bejo before taking the stage to claim his trophy.

In his acceptance speech, he also made light of the buzz surrounding Uggie, the dog who appears in "The Artist" and has become one of the most talked-about Hollywood animals in years.

"I want to thank Uggie the dog. I think he doesn't care, I'm not sure he understand what I say. He's not that good, but thank you," Hazanavicius joked.

Appearing backstage after the show, Hazanavicius told reporters he hopes to eventually make a movie in Hollywood, but that his next project will be a French production.

Hazanavicius also said he aims to adapt the 1948 Swiss-American film "The Search" about a young concentration camp survivor and his mother seeking each other after World War Two.

"It would be modern for today and yes it could (star) Berenice," he said.

(Additional reporting by Chris Michaud and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Sandra Maler)

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