With his “Redoubtable,” Oscar-winning “The Artist” writer-director Michel Hazanavicius delivers another homage to period cinema, this time channeling Jean-Luc Godard’s moviemaking techniques as he portrays the cinema god during his late ’60s transition from groundbreaking film iconoclast to actual radical revolutionary. (Read Eric Kohn’s review here.)
American buyers are already sniffing around the feature film, one that could play well for older cinephiles who love Godard, an admittedly narrow niche.
French star Louis Garrel, who also appears in Arnaud Desplechin’s festival opener “Ismael’s Ghosts,” is superb as Godard and could land an acting prize. At the beginning, we get a glimpse of the director audiences are clearly expecting to see: confident, playful, and adoring his 19-year-old leading lady Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), gazing straight at her (and us) as the camera tracks by during the filming of “La Chinoise.”
We move from the young newlyweds to the challenges that the tumultuous rebellion of the ’60s in France placed on the couple, as Godard passionately embraces radical rhetoric, keeps smashing his glasses at protest marches, and successfully fights to keep the Cannes Film Festival from going forward as planned.
He criticizes everything and everyone, including his spouse, who tends to keep her mouth shut. Surely, she should have more to say as a French philosophy student of the period, but Hazanavicius, while not approving of Godard’s patriarchal behavior toward his wife, doesn’t give her much to say. He does lovingly photograph her in the nude (luckily, Garrel does show up tout nu in one witty scene, as well as some male actors in another director’s movie he doesn’t want his wife to make).
Cannes Film Festival
At the film’s Cannes press conference, Hazanavicius describes the movie as a comedy, but mostly we see many people divided by constant arguing. “There are many different viewpoints,” said Garrel. “We love that they all end up quarreling. Without it we’d probably be bored. He was constantly creating conflict. And it was conflict that was joyful.”
The actor said he was well aware that at this phase in his life, Godard — whom he admires — dismissed actors as absurd believers in the suspension of disbelief: “That I had to appear as him in a film brought huge pressure but was exhilarating at the same time.”
Martin admitted that finding the right way to play his young actress wife was difficult, as the director who inspired her was changing along with France. Wiazemsky “calls herself into question, her choices and decisions,” Martin said. “It was a constant challenge and we talked about it at length. He’s such a wonderful actor, we worked a lot out as we went.”
“I wasn’t always very nice,” said Garrel, who shouts at his wife in many scenes.
Godard was “paradoxical in many ways,” said Hazanavicious, “with his bourgeois reactions and ideas about how women should behave. But he had very sincere attitudes and his revolutionary approach to making films that were not sentimental did not extend to his personal life.”
He added, “As to breaking down a myth, why not? When you make a film about someone you enhance the mystique. Although Jean-Luc Godard is a cultural messiah, he’s also fun. There’s humor in Godard.”
“He was ridiculous,” said Garrel. “But I had fun making him human. He stirs up trouble. That’s what he enjoys doing. The span of his life work is huge, but he’s sometimes quite funny and says stupid dumb things.”
While Hazanavicius rediscovered the great artist Godard during his research, he also does not worship Godard. “I am agnostic,” he said. “He’s one of the most important directors in the history of cinema, an iconic figure, but he’s a person as well.”
“Redoubtable” premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.