By Alexandria Sage
PARIS (Reuters) - France was awash in Oscar celebrations on Monday after "The Artist" won five Academy Awards including the first Best Actor win for a Frenchman, unleashing a wave of national pride.
Television stations played The Artist star Jean Dujardin's acceptance speech over and over -- his Hollywood victory came too late to make the front pages -- and politicians on the campaign trail sought to capitalize on the excitement.
President Nicolas Sarkozy called Dujardin's performance "dazzling," while his Socialist rival for the presidency, Francois Hollande, said the five Oscars won by The Artist made the film a "legend of French cinema."
The Artist, a French tribute to Hollywood's silent era, clinched the coveted Best Film award, grabbed a Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius and also won for musical score and costume design as well as Dujardin's Best Actor.
In the run-up to the Oscars, satiric nightly news show "Le Petit Journal" presented recurring clips of "Jean vs. George (Clooney)," a spoof of over-hyped boxing matches in which images of the two rival nominees faced off amid theatrical music and special effects.
In an multi-page spread in Paris Match magazine last week, Dujardin's wife Alexandra Lamy -- who herself has three upcoming films -- said the behavior of people in France has changed since her husband was nominated for an Oscar.
"They encourage Jean, they want him to win for them, for France. You would think we were back in 1998, during the World Cup," she said.
The Artist was re-released in France earlier this month to capture a second wave of filmgoers motivated by the buzz around Dujardin, a well-liked actor who has been working in film for more than a decade.
"I think it's very good and more than that, Jean Dujardin is very nice, he doesn't seem to be gloating ..." said one French film fan on Monday. "It's a very beautiful film, nostalgic."
Dujardin and Lamy became household names in 1999 when they starred in the television show "A Guy and a Girl". A few years later, the comedy "Brice de Nice," in which he played a dead-beat surfer, sealed his fame and box-office appeal.
In The Artist Dujardin plays silent movie icon George Valentin, a Clark Gable type who refuses to accept the death of the silent movie. Co-star Berenice Bejo was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, while Uggie the dog, an expressive Jack Russell Terrier, also steals a scene or two.
"Maybe it's a feel-good movie, a love story, a simple story and maybe there is a cute dog. Everybody loves a cute dog," Dujardin explained to Reuters TV in a January interview.
In France, ads for a new buddy film, "The Unfaithful", co-directed by and co-starring Dujardin, have caused a mini-storm, with Dujardin's face photographed between the straddled, shapely legs of a woman in high heels.
With his win on Sunday night, Dujardin became the first French actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Two French actresses before him have taken home Oscars for Best Actress. Simone Signoret became the first French person to win an Academy Award when she won it in 1959 and Marion Cotillard won in 2007. Claudette Colbert, who left France at the age of three, won in 1935.
"I love your country," Dujardin declared in English in accepting his award, before reverting to his native French to shout, "Bloody Hell! Brilliant! Thanks! Fantastic! Thank you very much!"
Back on home soil on Friday, Dujardin was shut out from France's highest acting honors, the Cesars, with the "Best Actor" award going to Omar Sy in "Intouchables." Still, The Artist received six Cesars, including a Best Actress for Bejo.
Hollywood has fallen hard for the suave Dujardin, who managed to also nab Best Actor awards this season at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, as well as a BAFTA award in London.
Dujardin burst into a rousing rendition of France's national anthem, "La Marseillaise," after winning the SAG awards, and acknowledged the "pressure" was on to represent his country.
(Reporting By Alexandria Sage)