As a filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard is a brilliant enigma whose work offers more questions than answers. “Redoubtable” solves that challenge with an outside source: Adapted from actress-turned-author Anne Wiazemsky’s 2015 memoir, “Un An Apres” (“One Year Later”), this surprisingly endearing tragicomedy recounts her short-lived marriage to Godard and the moment in which the feisty filmmaker soured into the angry, outspoken political radical that became his post-’60s persona.
Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), the movie toys with Godard’s own early filmmaking style in a wry effort to salute his legacy and demystify its evolution. Light and inoffensive, it trades the intellectual rigor of Godard’s work for fluffy sentiments, but never gets crass. Above all else, it succeeds at transforming cinephile trivia into a genuine crowdpleaser.
A welcome rebound after Hazanvicius’ misbegotten remake “The Search,” the new movie is a return to the colorful period details of his spy-movie satire “OSS 117” and its sequel, but with a sharper sense of purpose. At its center, Louis Garrel delivers an vivid, spot-on interpretation of Godard in his late thirties, when he was still a jaunty, garrulous figure who excelled at delivering each line with delicious irony and the hints of a smirk; these days, he’s more closely associated with secrecy and a scowl. “Redoubtable” explains how things got that way.
But Godard’s not the whole show: Stacy Martin conjures a remarkable, tender performance that’s the opposite of the horny teen she portrayed in the first of “Nymphomaniac.” As Wiazemsky, the red-haired 19-year-old star of Godard’s “La Chinoise” who becomes the filmmaker’s muse in art and life, she excels at exuding the frustrations of a woman whose entire world is overshadowed by her domineering partner. Yet for much of its running time, “Redoubtable” is a disarming romantic comedy that communes with the appeal of early Godard, not simplifying the French New Wave talent so much as bringing him down to earth. Godard enthusiasts are right to be skeptical of any reductive approach to his accomplishments, but “Redoubtable” displays considerable effort to avoid that pratfall.
Wiazemsky was 19 when she got together with Godard before production on “La Chinoise” in 1967. When the movie begins, the 37-year-old director has already become an iconic figure of the Nouvelle Vague. “Redoubtable” shifts between competing voiceovers from an objective narrator and the young Wiazemsky to sketch out Godard’s competing passion for the work and the fear that he’s peaked too soon. “Mozart died at 35,” he says. “He got it right.”
But Godard’s respite from a premature midlife crisis comes in romance-sized tidbits. Hazanavicius sketches out the couple’s life together as a quirky bohemian ideal, shifting from a wordless display of affection over breakfast that culminates in a marriage proposal to an expressionistic black-and-white lovemaking scene. In Garrel’s hands, Godard initially is a lively figure who oscillates from goofing around the house to pondering philosophical conceits, to the point where Wiazemsky feels like she’s competing with his overactive mind for attention. “Anna loved Jean-Luc,” the narration tells us, “but he talked too much.”
From there, Hazanavicius develops a portrait of the developing insurgency leading up to the May ’68 protests, and Godard’s own mounting desire to reject the institutional norms and politicize his work. The movie finds Godard trapped between his ideological convictions and a reputation as an entertaining provocateur, positioning him as one of “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola” that he explored in his 1966 “Masculin Féminin.”
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