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October 19, 2017
Jean-Luc Godard has called this – an account of his marriage to Anne Wiazemsky, based on her autobiographical novel, Un an après – a “stupid, stupid idea.” This may well be because a large part of the film shows him in a less than favourable light. He is a cinematic icon who has often walked a fine line between cutting-edge postmodernism (À bout de souffle, Pierrot le fou) and tedious pretentiousness (Adieu au langage). Director Michel Hazanavicius embraces all of his flaws, quirks and idiosyncrasies.
The film opens during filming on Godard’s La chinoise (1967), his first film with the then 17-year-old Wiazemsky (played by British actress Stacy Martin in fluent French). JLG and Anne fall in love and marry, despite him being nearly two decades her senior and her being the granddaughter of a famous conservative writer. To her, he is a charismatic and enlightening; to him, she is a muse.
La chinoise is a failure with almost everyone, including, crucially, Chairman Mao. Godard (Louis Garrel), an ardent communist, is ashamed and decides that cinema is too bourgeois. There must be an artistic – as well as political – revolution. This obsession consumes him, putting strain on a marriage in which he was already too controlling.
Arguably, Hazanavicius shouldn’t need to rely on Godardian filmmaking techniques to make a biopic of the man. Regardless, these flourishes are enjoyable and he clearly revels in his opportunity to lovingly satirise Godard. One scene finds Anne and JLG debating the pros and cons of doing a nude scene, which of course Martin and Garrel perform completely naked. He brings the same energy to the French New Wave that he previously brought to Oscar-winning effect in The Artist (2011). It is a slightly tongue-in-cheek but affectionate homage. Godard even says, “I am not Godard! I am an actor playing him. And not a very good one.” On the contrary, Garrel is very convincing as a brilliant if deeply infuriating man. If there is a criticism of his performance, then perhaps it is slightly two-dimensional, but he makes us believe in the character nonetheless.
Martin, however, is the real heart of the film. She is totally believable both as the transgressive, carefree young actress and the woman who later realises she is trapped in a marriage to a man who is more devoted to idealism than to her. There are many scenes in which Anne acts more as an observer than a participant, but her presence is powerfully felt.
It is difficult to say whether fans of the French New Wave – and Godard in particular – will enjoy Redoubtable. As someone who is ambivalent about both, I can say that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Some may find it lightweight and insincere, but I found it fresh, funny, surprising and sexy with a heartfelt central performance by Stacy Martin.
Words by Logan Jones
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