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“You have to choose – either it’s politics or cinema.” The degree to which you revere the work of film-maker Jean-Luc Godard will doubtless prove inversely proportional to how much you can enjoy writer-director Michel Hazanavicius’s mischievous account of the director’s late-60s descent into revolutionary dogma. Some devoted cinephiles have found Redoubtable (AKA Godard Mon Amour) to be insulting and outrageous.
Godard famously dismissed the project as a “stupid, stupid idea”, a quote that Hazanavicius’s publicists promptly slapped on the film’s posters. Personally, having forsaken the Cannes film festival in 2010 after enduring the mooing reverence for Godard’s gruellingly terrible Film Socialisme, I found myself chuckling throughout Redoubtable, surprisingly entertained by its slapstick iconoclasm.
We open in 1967, at the height of Godard’s fame. Having become the poster boy for the nouvelle vague, Godard (played with lisping arrogance by Louis Garrel) is finishing work on La Chinoise, a polemical piece starring his muse, Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin, sharply cast). “The future belonged to him,” says Anne in voiceover, “and I loved him.”
But as the battle cries of the ’68 protests erupt, Godard turns his back on the cinema that made him famous. Disowning his back catalogue, he sets up the Dziga Vertov group with mouthy theorist Jean-Pierre Gorin (Félix Kysyl), conspiring to make films with “no script, no actors” – and no audience. Is Godard’s dream of forging a “true political cinema” radical or merely indulgent? Can he ever become something more than “a celebrity pretending to be a revolutionary”?
Based on Wiazemsky’s book Un an après, Hazanavicius’s script takes a tale of a marriage and a career unravelling and turns tragedy to comedy, an element that reportedly appealed to Wiazemsky, who died last year. Calling Godard “a pop culture icon” on a par with Warhol, Lennon and Elvis, Hazanavicius insists that Redoubtable (which takes its ironic title from news reports about life aboard a nuclear submarine) is primarily “a love story”. Yet what we see on screen often comes across more as a portrait of the artist as an asshole – a solipsist with a self-destructive streak torching his personal and professional life in the name of ill-judged idealism. “We’ll love each other later,” Jean-Luc tells Anne in one of his more absurd outbursts. “Now, it’s the revolution!”
Like his subject, Hazanavicius’s directorial career has had its ups and downs. Having made his name with the knockabout OSS 117 spy-spoof movies, he hit gold in 2011 with The Artist, an Oscar-winning salute to the silent era notable for its joyous levity. But his next feature, The Search, set in wartorn Chechnya, was largely panned by critics and ignored by audiences, a reception not wholly dissimilar to that which greeted La Chinoise. “When are you going to make funny films again?” Garrel’s Godard is asked in Redoubtable, evoking the spectre of Woody Allen’s disgruntled director in Stardust Memories.
In fact, despite the endless stylistic nods to Godard (chapter headings, interstitial slogans, jumpy monochrome interludes etc), Allen occasionally seems to cast the longest shadow. A sequence in which the bespectacled Godard (who is constantly losing his glasses) visits the shoot of Marco Ferreri’s The Seed of Man evokes the alienated LA scenes from Annie Hall, a film also recalled in Hazanavicius’s satirical subtitling of an apparently innocuous conversation between Anne and Jean-Luc.
Of course, no one is more critical of his work than the maestro himself. Having declared at the age of 37 that all artists should die by the age of 35, Garrel’s antihero spends much of Redoubtable insisting that “Godard is dead!” and bad-mouthing his own films. Meanwhile, Hazanavicius’s movie constantly flags up its own ridiculousness. “I’m not Godard,” says Garrel in one of Redoubtable’s many playfully self-reflexive friendly-fire gags. “I’m an actor playing Godard… and not even a very good actor.” Later, the two main players have a lengthy naked conversation in which they discuss “this obsession directors have with undressing actors”.
Despite such high jinks, however, the ’68 uprisings are evoked with an unironic vigour that suggests that Hazanavicius has a higher purpose than mere snark. Behind the absurdity of Jean-Luc’s babbling polemics there remains something of value – a palpable sense that significant cultural change is afoot. Redoubtable may be largely played for laughs, but there’s a melancholy romance at its heart that hints at sincerity lurking amid the satire.
Source: The Guardian
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