Redoubtable review: irreverent riff on Godard in ’68

Michel Hazanavicius’s nouvelle vague romcom re-enacts the affair between an angst-ridden Jean-Luc Godard and ingenue actress Anne Wiazemsky. It’s far from respectful, but few cinephiles will be able to resist its knowing humour.

Jonathan Romney
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Louis Garrel as Jean-Luc Godard in May 1968

Louis Garrel as Jean-Luc Godard in May 1968

Call me a crypto-revisionist lackey of the mainstream, if you will – but, as a generally lacklustre Cannes competition wheezes to its end, I’d like to put in a word for Michel Hazanavicius’s Redoubtable, a pop-art quasi-romcom take on the brief marriage between Jean-Luc Godard and his sometime actress Anne Wiazemsky, whose autobiographical writing the film is based on. The Artist and his two OSS 117 60s spy spoofs proved that Hazanavicius is a master pasticheur (even if his last film, The Search, made you wonder if he had a sense of humour when just being himself). But Redoubtable is fun, a breezy, super-self-referential recycling of vintage Godardian tropes – and the fact that it’s fun will be, for his more hardbrow devotees, part of the problem.

Redoubtable is set largely in 1968, a critical year both for Godard and for France – although, the film suggests, that year’s changes were short-lived for France, irreversible for Godard. Louis Garrel is an actor I’ve never quite taken to, but here he gives his usual narcissistic persona a self-mocking spin as an increasingly anguished JLG – deeply in love with Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), incapable of seeing beyond their ostensible Svengali-protégée relationship, worried at 37 about being eclipsed by the angry new politicised generation, and heartily sick of being told by fans that they prefer the early funny ones (one of several Woody Allen references in the movie, include a subtitles gag à la Annie Hall).

The film is structured in several chapters with headings that play, more or less amusingly, on Godard film titles (‘Pierrot le Mépris’). It riffs fairly systematically on the look, feel and self-deconstructing tropes of Godard’s 60s output – notably La Chinoise, Pierrot le fou (for a Côte d’Azur interlude) and Vivre sa vie. DoP Guillaume Schiffman achieves a candy-bright repurposing of the colours and compositions of Raoul Coutard’s cinematography.

Garrel with Stacy Martin as Anne Wiazemsky

Garrel with Stacy Martin as Anne Wiazemsky

Redoubtable also throws in its own fourth-wall-breaking gags. Among them are routines to camera about the stupidity of actors – so dumb that they’d even say actors were dumb in a movie, if you paid them to – and about nudity, played out naked and poker-faced by Garrel and Martin. At one point, a newly radicalised Godard declares that all past cinema must be swept away – except Jerry Lewis and the Marx Brothers. This Tashlino-Marxian film proceeds as if JLG could be added to that list.

There are many problems with the film – above all, the way that Wiazemsky comes across for the most part as a vacant observer, sexually objectified throughout (albeit knowingly, after Bardot in Le Mépris). Another is that you feel an undeniable sense of dirty washing, relating to a great artist still active and troublesome at 86 (if he sees the film, a disapproving Godard might suggest adding the chapter title Déguelasse Pour Moi). Yes, it unashamedly trivialises Godard, and arguably reduces the events of May 1968 to a chic stylised backdrop. But, never outright iconoclastic, still less hostile, Redoubtable simply places the odd banana skin under the great man’s feet, with irreverent fondness. Even JLG unconditionals might find deux ou trois choses to enjoy.

 

 

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