Silent English to Broken French by Andrea McNeill
I knew very little about this film before that night and had purchased my ticket solely based upon Shane’s recommendation. I knew that as an accomplished screenwriter and cinephile his opinion mattered. He’d seen the trailer and thought it looked great due to his adoration of 20s to mid 50s Silver Screen Hollywood. He had said that, “Besides SNOWTOWN, THE ARTIST was my most anticipated film of the year, and when Dujardin won Cannes and the Weinsteins picked it up immediately after, I knew it was going to be good.”
Quite honestly, the film left me speechless. I’d never seen anything like it, and was without a doubt one of the most entertaining films of the year for me. I loved its variation on a theme of A STAR IS BORN, its charming story, vibrant characters and mesmerizing score. I will forever cherish Peppy and George’s relationship with him as the mentor, crush and lover to her, the young ingénue. George becomes lovable helping the starlet’s career as they fall in love. I found it bittersweet to watch Peppy’s career flourish as his withers away. THE ARTIST had heart. Its universal theme transcended religious, ethnic and political boundaries as it seamlessly blended the past and present, in a way that took us back to our roots.
As Shane and I exited the theatre he predicted the film would win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. There was no doubt it had touched us both. As we proceeded into the courtyard of the famed ‘hand and footprints’ I looked down at my feet. I was standing on the cement where Hollywood’s greatest talents were memorialized. I wondered about my own career, my mentors and influences. Then I looked up, and that’s when Shane and I saw him. Across the courtyard it was Jean Dujardin being interviewed. “Come on, let’s get his autograph.” Shane grabbed my hand and pulled me with him. My first thought was, “I can ask him in French.”
Durante toute ma vie j’avais étudié le francais. I became fluent while living in Geneva during the summer of 1984. Since then I have been to France a few times, for my 40th birthday with my family to see le Tour de France and to visit Paris. Here in Los Angeles I have friends with whom I speak, but it’s never enough. To become truly fluent in a foreign language one must live in that country and speak every day. A little here, a little there is never enough. It takes a lifetime to understand the intricacies and nuances of a language’s slang and idioms. Those ‘fluent’ days were long gone for me. I knew I could still hold a conversation, but this was Jean Dujardin, actor extraordinaire. Never the less, I was as determined and not about to let his fame or stardom stop me from making a good impression. I would welcome to my country and hometown in his native language.
Shane and I knew timing was of the essence. Dujardin’s interview was wrapping up and we still couldn’t find a pen. We fumbled through our pockets. I rummaged in my purse. We were two screenwriters without a pen. Not a good sign. A group of ladies standing nearby took pity on us and loaned us one. The interview lights went out. The television crew scattered. Dujardin stood alone. It was now or never. Shane and I looked at each other. We knew what we had to do and with a smile, ‘went for it’. We approached the actor somewhat hesitantly, and then before I knew it, I was standing in front of him, speaking French. He smiled. Dujardin was kind and gracious as he signed his autograph. I remember it as a great moment. There I was speaking broken French to a man who had captured our hearts speaking to America in silent English. It made me realize, the heart really does go beyond language. That is what cinema is all about. As filmmakers and writers we aim to cross every ocean and go beyond every boundary to celebrate an encounter, a brief moment in time. In essence it is these special and unforgettable human encounters that keep us creating, coming back for more.
By Andrea McNeill, in Los Angeles
Andrea McNeill was born and raised in West Los Angeles, California. A graduate of UCLA’s world-renowned Writer’s Program, Master Class in feature film writing with Tom Lazarus. Ms. McNeill has several features and TV scripts that have garnered attention of some of Hollywood’s biggest producers, studio executives and show runners: Lucas Foster (MAN ON FIRE), Glen Whitman (Exec Story Editor, FRINGE), Jane Seymour, Robert Schwartz (IRON WILL), and several Top 5 Broadcast Networks all eye her work.