How do you make a film about Jean-Luc Godard? Better still, how do you make a coherent, accessible film about a man whose career has been largely rooted in a desire to smash the medium’s conventions and pursue a very personal directorial route? According to Michel Hazanavicius, best known internationally for his Oscar-winning silent film tribute The Artist and at home for Bond pastiche OSS 117, the best strategy is to embrace the path of comedy, applying a cheerfully tongue-in-cheek touch to a specific phase of the controversial French-Swiss auteur’s life.
Taking its cue from an autobiographical book from Godard’s former wife Anne Wiazemsky (played by Stacy Martin), Redoubtable traces the evolution of her relationship with the filmmaker, from the first meeting on the set of La Chinoise (1967) to the eventual split around the time of the creation of the Dziga Vertov Group.
It is a crucial time for Godard (Louis Garrel), whose political instincts are irrevocably shaken by the events of May 1968, leading him and fellow directors like François Truffaut to engineer the cancellation of that year’s Cannes Film Festival (one key line of dialogue, “Going to Cannes this year is moronic!”, was met with plenty of laughter when the film debuted at the festival this year).
The portrait that emerges of Godard is largely unflattering: self-absorbed, callous, prone to accidents (a running gag involves his glasses needing to be replaced on a regular basis) and emotionally abusive. The accuracy of this depiction can be disputed (although one suspects Godard himself won’t care one bit about his on-screen counterpart), but it fits with a somewhat stereotypical notion that great artists can sometimes be douchebags, and it goes hand in hand with Hazanavicius’ irreverent approach.
Much like Breathless, Contempt and other seminal works toyed with storytelling rules, so does Redoubtable, questioning the use of voiceovers, the narrative necessity of nude scenes and, in the film’s single most amusing moment of self-awareness, the acting talents of Garrel.
The playfulness (and with it, the film’s effectiveness) diminishes in the later stretches, as inside jokes are replaced by a more sombre tone (albeit with a bit of cheek at the expense of a couple of legendary Italian directors). The unevenness is largely compensated, however, by Garrel’s fearless, career-best performance: daring to look surprisingly less attractive than Godard himself at the time and immersing himself in the role with a dedication that includes JLG’s lisp, the Dreamers star disappears beneath the spectacles and the bad hair, a refreshing change of pace compared to his usual acting habits.
Thanks in no small part to him, Redoubtable may not be the definitive Godard tribute some would hope for, but it’s a decently entertaining experience that manages to be accessible and impenetrable at the same time, as it should be.
|What||Redoubtable film review|
|Where||French Institute, 17 Queensberry Place, London, SW12 2DT | MAP|
11 May 18 – 31 Jul 18, 8:00 AM – 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here for more information|