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'The Artist' director Michel Hazanavicius follows up Oscar hit with Chechen War drama

Actress Berenice Bejo poses for photographers during a photo call for The Search at the 67th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

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Actress Berenice Bejo poses for photographers during a photo call for The Search at the 67th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

CANNES, France - The director of the "The Artist" is following up his best-picture Oscar-winner with a gritty drama about the Chechen War.

Michel Hazanavicius premiered "The Search" at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, three years after his "The Artist" first debuted at the French Riviera festival. Cannes is where the black-and-white silent film ode became a sensation that carried through the Academy Awards.

It was one of the most unlikely, out-of-the-blue successes in recent years, and Hazanavicius was met with virtually unlimited options for his next movie.

"I was in a very odd situation. I made a film which didn't comply with the rules of the market at all," said Hazanavicius. "And this film ended up getting a host of awards and it made money.

"I had the impression I could do just about anything I wanted to do," he said.

He opted to make almost the antithesis of "The Artist" — a largely light, buoyant film about a star silent film actor. "The Search" is very roughly based on the 1948 film by the same name by Fred Zinnemann about an American soldier and a Czech boy in post-World War II Germany.

Set during the Second Chechen War of 1999, the film is about a 9-year-old boy (Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev) whose parents are executed by Russian soldiers. He's later taken in by a European Union delegate (Berenice Bejo). A second story line develops simultaneously about a 19-year-old Russian (Maxim Emelianov) drafted into the army and — in the manner of "Full Metal Jacket" — built into a callous killing machine. Annette Bening co-stars as a social worker.

Hazanavicius said he didn't feel any pressure following up "The Artist," until Wednesday in Cannes. "The Search" received largely negative reviews and a healthy amount of boos at its debut screening ahead of its Wednesday night premiere.

Producer Thomas Langmann said Hazanavicius' insistence on making a film about the Chechen War was even more bullheaded and anti-commercial than shooting in black-and-white for "The Artist."

"You have to be a bit crazy, stupid or just not think too seriously about things," said Hazanavicius. "Otherwise you wouldn't be a director."

Hazanavicius said he was driven to tell a story "that few people have told."

"It became quite a personal matter for me," said the French director, who alluded to his Lithuanian descent. "People were being massacred, yet the international community was indifferent."

On his next film, Hazanavicius will return to lighter fare. He's to make a comedy titled "Will" with Zach Galifianakis and Paul Rudd.

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Follow AP Film Writer on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle

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