Angelique Chrisafis in Paris 

Jean Dujardin: getting an Oscar is like winning the World Cup

The Artist star becomes symbol of year in which French films won global acclaim and record box office figures at home
  
  

France's most bankable actor, Jean Dujardin, said being awarded an Oscar was like winning the World Cup – and jubilant reaction in France to the film's five awards has been of the same order.

Dujardin took best actor for his role in The Artist, and the two frontrunners in the French presidential race were quick to praise the film's success.

Nicolas Sarkozy hailed "a tremendous success for French cinema and quality cinema" and praised the long-running initiatives that have protected France's film industry.

In a radio interview, the French president also managed to use the film's Oscar glory to steer the topic on to his own policy and defend his widely criticised Hadopi law against illegal downloading, saying: "We have to defend cinema, defend auteurs. Films must be paid for, we can't pirate them – that's what we wanted to deal with with the Hadopi law."

François Hollande, the Socialist presidential frontrunner, praised the vitality of French cinema and its major role in France's cultural influence abroad. He also commended French arts funding.

The Artist's director, Michel Hazanavicius, had previously highlighted how hard he had to fight for funding for the film in France when most backers in Paris said it flew in the face of logic to make a silent, black-and-white film.

The Artist's success has been seen as a triumph for French auteur-driven films over Hollywood – even if the film, which was shot in Los Angeles, won in part because it had convinced the jury that it was American.

The award for best film was deeply symbolic. French films have won best film prizes at the Oscars before, but always in foreign film or documentary categories. This was the first time a Paris production had beaten English-language films at their own game.

As the France Inter radio station noted in its morning bulletin on Monday, Dujardin managed to get away with shouting "putain!" while collecting his statuette, whereas "fuck, its equivalent, would have been beeped".

Dujardin, a comic actor, has been France's top box office star for years, famous for his comedy pastiche and hailed as the "new Jean-Paul Belmondo". But he is now a kind of national hero, a symbol of a year in which French films not only won international acclaim but saw record box office figures at home.

Hazanavicius is known in France for his "OSS 117" spy comedy spoofs – a cross between James Bond and Austin Powers.

By taking the best director Oscar, he bagged a prize that had eluded half a dozen of France's biggest film-makers, including Jean Renoir, François Truffaut and Louis Malle, who all were nominated for best director but never won.

The only other film-maker from France to win the directing Oscar was Roman Polanski, who was born in France, moved to Poland as a child and has lived in France since fleeing Hollywood over child sex charges in the 1970s.