Redoubtable (Le Redoutable)

France (2017) Dir. Michel Hazanavicius

Jean-Luc Godard is revered as one of the founding fathers of the French New Wave of the 1960’s, someone whose maverick approach to filmmaking challenged the form, conventions, and language of cinema with films like Breathless. Hailed as a genius by critics, filmmakers and fans alike, if this film, based on the autobiographical novel from his second ex-wife, is to be believed, Godard was also a bit of self-absorbed douche.

To be fair, the period covered in Redoubtable runs from 1967-1970, so we only get a snapshot of what the man was like, but in lieu of Godard’s bold, headstrong reimagining of cinema it is hard not to accept some veracity of portrayal, especially considering the source – kicking off the film as a 19 year-old actress in his 1967 film La Chinoise, Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin)

It is not shown but Godard (Louis Garrel), 37 at the time, and Anne soon married and typically, the early days were blissful. However, Godard was becoming increasingly influenced by Maoism – La Chinoise was actually about a Maoist revolution, garnering negative reviews from the critics – and had become tired of not only bourgeois life but also bourgeois cinema.

Anne happily went along with her husband, supporting him on political marches during the Paris student riots of 1968 but Godard’s unyielding, intransigent political obsessions were beginning to alienate him from their friends and colleagues whilst Godard took issue with the complacent film industry itself. The bitterer Godard became with the world the bigger the strain it put on their marriage until he and Anne split in 1970.

Fans of Godard might regard this film as a hatchet job being based on the late Anne Wiazemsky’s recollection of events (albeit in novelisation form), her role as the bitter ex-wife ensuring objectivity is low on the agenda. If one is viewing this and does not know Godard or his works, they will come away with the idea he was a pretentious, pig headed, solipsistic twat with his head up his own arse.

Then again, Godard makes the kind of films with limited mainstream appeal anyway and French New Wave is practically a synonym for “pretentious” arty cinema so maybe the cap fits? It is not so much that Godard took up support for pertinent political causes in France but he became an extremist and let it consume him to the point he wouldn’t let anyone else have an opinion different from him.

Godard didn’t hold back in telling his peers there were making bad films because they were conventional and studio financed; he and others sought to have Cannes cancelled in 1968 because it was insensitive to the students were rioting; finally he told an audience at a summit that his own old films were junk and meant nothing.

Suffice to say Anne was growing weary of having to support her husband and eventually took a stand, the crunch came when Anne took a film role in Italy while Godard was in Prague – he eventually arrives in Italy and proceeds to accuse Anne of sleeping with her male co-star. Of course, none of the ill feeling between them is Godard’s fault, the same way that filmgoers are at fault for not liking his current output.

Director Michel Hazanavicius is best known for his Oscar winning love letter to cinema The Artistit is hard to know if Redoubtable is a love letter to one of his idols or if he is sticking the boot in too. Godard himself described the film as a “stupid, stupid idea” but no-one really likes to have their dirty laundry aired in public especially by their ex-wife!

However, Hazanavicius seems to have his tongue in his cheek here, injecting plenty of humour into many scenes that should be hard to sit through. For instance, a fraught car journey with Godard arguing and upsetting the five other people crammed into a tiny vehicle is supported by the tune Magic Moments; when the marriage starts to crumble, Godard is reading a book titled It’s All Going Sour; and the discussion about the merits of nudity in film occurs while both Godard and Anne are naked!

In recreating the vibe of the 60’s, the screen is awash with bright colours, with nary any darkness to be found and even the heavy political debates, protest marches and ensuing violence are carried along with a vibrant energy. Hazanavicius also makes references to Godard’s canon through visual and verbal means which only the devoted will recognise (I’ve only seen Breathless so that’s me out) but the film’s overall style does itself seem to be a tribute to Godard’s rule-breaking approach to cinema.

Getting across Godard’s complex personality and the journey towards his temporary vertiginous fall from grace for those who know and those of us who don’t puts a lot of pressure on Louis Garrel. He is at first almost unrecognisable without his trademark curly hair but we soon accept he is there behind the surly persona of Godard and makes us believe what we are seeing.

Stacy Martin is the perfect foil for Garrel as Anne, a flower starved of attention, slowly withering in Godard’s hands, only to bloom when in the care of others who give her the sustenance she needs. This should be Martin’s coming out party in terms of her career. Bérénice Bejo is wasted in a support role as one of Godard’s friends but her radiant presence lifts every scene she appears in.

Redoubtable can’t be compared to other bio-pics because, like its subject, it doesn’t follow convention. It carves its own path but is still more palatable for mainstream audiences than Godard’s films. It’s an audacious film, perhaps even cheeky given its source material, but that makes it so interesting but this portrayal of Godard makes it difficult to respect him as a person while his legacy as a filmmaker also feels tainted as a result. Godard fans will likely be fuming however.