Everyone who is ever so slightly interested in cinema (and even some who aren’t) has heard of Jean-Luc Godard.
It is a name that, when pronounced, either produces great admiration, overt contempt, or just brings to mind the vague idea of a man who made some famous movies a while ago.
I find myself split between these three categories of people, as I respect his contribution to cinema, find him incredibly irritating nonetheless, and overall just don’t care that much about him or his movies.
With Redoubtable, Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) will bring all of us together – or at least try to. Redoubtable is a comedy about Jean-Luc Godard, his relationship with his second wife Anne Wiazemsky, and most of all his existential and professional doubts during the spring of 1968, a period of demonstrations & general civil unrest in France against the government, capitalism and traditional values.
Based on Anne Wiazemsky’s book Un an après (meaning “A year later”; the book has yet to be translated and published in other countries), Redoubtable is both a homage to Godard’s filmography and a parody deriding him from start to finish, walking a fine line that might work for some and anger others.
It is made clear from the very beginning of the movie that Hazanavicius wants to make a movie that looks like it was made by Godard – or at least uses techniques and recreates scenes used by the famous filmmaker: title cards all with different fonts, discontinuity between sound and images, actors addressing the audience or scenes that are clear echoes of iconic moments from Godard’s most famous movies.
Although the references could be felt by some as too cumbersome, I found them well-utilized, never ridiculed (nor ridiculous) and sometimes essential to the movie. By reusing all these techniques, Hazanavicius makes of Redoubtable a love letter to Godard’s filmography and to the French New Wave.
Redoubtable remains a comedy, though, and that is where Hazanavicius might lose his audience if they are die-hard Godard fans. While some of the comedy is very meta and particularly well-done (with actors addressing the audience to deride their own profession or poke fun at the movie itself or cinema in general), the majority of the comedy is at the expanse of the iconic filmmaker, turned by Hazanavicius into a man too annoying & pretentious to be taken seriously.
Godard’s contribution to cinema is mostly swept under the carpet as the movie focuses on his political beliefs and professional shift after 1968, all of which are turned into a sad joke; no wonder Godard himself said of the movie that it was a “stupid, stupid idea” (a sentence later displayed onto the poster of the film).
The duo of actors, Louis Garrel (The Dreamers, Love Songs) (portraying Jean-Luc Godard) and Stacy Martin (All The Money In The World, High-Rise) (portraying Anna Wiazemsky), are great together and separately, Louis Garrel almost unrecognizable even, both by face and voice.
It is, however, a shame that Stacy Martin isn’t more present in the movie, especially as Redoubtable is based on Wiazemsky’s book. Instead of focusing on her, or at least give her an equal presence to Jean-Luc, she is very often passive and in the background, serving only as our entry into Godard’s life at the time.
In the end, although I don’t think that was the intent of the movie, nor that this will be the case for many of its viewers, I still found myself empathizing with Godard, his doubts & his convictions.
The Godard of Redoubtable, whether close or not to the real one, is a hard man to love but one I couldn’t help but understand and be compassionate towards, at least a little bit. This gives the movie another layer of greatness, and while it may not be the most honest biography, it is at least an interesting take on one.
All in all, the success of this movie comes down to the viewers’ feelings towards Godard, more precisely whether mocking him and presenting him as insufferable will anger or please them. And if you have never watched a single movie by Godard, nor care about him or even know him, the movie will still be a pleasing and fun watch.