Redoubtable, dir. Michel Hazanavicius│That the great French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard hasn’t always been a very kind man isn’t news to anyone. His rebelliousness is in fact the very reason why he was such an important and controversial figure at a time when French –and European- cinema was in a state of limbo in the late 1950s and the 1960s. With Redoubtable, French director Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) decides to tackle not only this public persona of the director, but even more so his private life at a tumultuous time. Why focus on the personal aspects when the public dimension of Godard’s life, especially in the late 1960s, was already so evidently interesting, from badly received films to activism? Hazanavicius, despite reproducing the style of JLG’s films with relentless energy and striving for entertainment, can’t justify his approach in any meaningful way. Irreverence isn’t an issue in itself –as Hazanavicius himself decried in an interview, “Godard isn’t God!” But the simplistic approach to this evidently troubled character and the situations he finds himself in reveals in Hazanavicius a total disinterest in the man himself. Instead, what seems to drive the film is an obsession with belittling the auteur (played with dedication by Louis Garrel) and sadistically kicking him while he’s down, by exploiting in the process the sad story of his ex-wife, Anne Wiazemsky.
Placed perfectly in the centre of a close-up and dressed in bright primary colours, Anne (Stacy Martin) is in Godard’s film from the very beginning of Redoubtable. Although she is the one dominating the voice over –the film is based on Wiazemsky’s memoir- this story is about her imprisonment in a relationship with a controlling and insecure man at a time of crisis, but a man who nonetheless made her discover the world at 19 years old. Yet if this opening hints at a feminist approach, the tone of Hazanavicius’ speedy slideshow editing makes the opposite evident. Very quickly, Martin’s cute face, framed in the classic 60s bob that makes her truly look underage, is replaced on screen by her naked body, splayed across a bed and scrutinised in a slow tracking shot. Although this stylistic choice vaguely recalls Godard’s own, it also vulgarises it: Godard’s decision to show naked bodies in his oeuvre wasn’t –and still isn’t today, as Goodbye to Language demonstrates- a reflection of his perception of women as sexual objects, as this shot here suggests, but rather echoes and criticises Hollywood and society’s vision. By introducing us to Anne in such a way, Hazanavicius at once reduces her to a naïve pretty little girl liked for her physique, and depraves Godard’s conscientious choice to use nudity in his film for a specific message of protest. Hazanavicius may defend himself by claiming that he’s beating JLG at his own game by proving that his position was hypocritical, but he only comes off as an insolent director too afraid and proud to try and truly understand the practice of the man whose life he’s depicting and whose style he’s adopting.
This period of Godard’s life coincides with a difficult political situation in France that Hazanavicius portrays with a certain understanding of its complexity. In the short span of 3 years, the student movement went through various ups and downs with which Godard wasn’t always in accordance. Yet in his depiction of the director struggling to be understood by the public, Hazanavicius consistently puts the blame for this mix-up on JLG himself. In his camera, the reason why the pro-communist auteur is at odds with the revolutionary impulse seems to be that he hasn’t thought through any of his bold political stances. Interrogated on the purposes of cinema by fans of his work as he marches for freedom of speech, Godard ends up walking away, annoyed that he can’t have the last word. While his willingness to rebelliously displease the public must have been partly coming from silly arrogance, Hazanavicius leaves no space for the possibility that it might also have originated from a genuine frustration with the way the political rebellion was going.
When he isn’t mocking his subject, Hazanavicius uses his taste for witticisms to make less eye-roll inducing meta remarks about his own film and actors. Louis Garrel as Godard, looking into the camera and claiming that he’s “certain if you ask an actor to say that actors are idiots, he’d do it” is a charming way to defend the film’s tongue-in-cheek approach, even if a weak one in comparison to its offences. When a naked Stacy Martin as Anne explains that she wouldn’t mind getting naked for a part if the script called for it, Martin seems to justify her recurrent nude roles while Hazanavicius again questions Godard’s potential hypocrisy, and cinema’s too. This sarcasm towards his own filmmaking, however, doesn’t excuse his extreme flippancy regarding his subject because both of these attitudes simply cannot be compared: denigrating another director for entertainment asks for more responsibility than self-deprecation. By placing his commentary on his own film and on Godard’s oeuvre on the same level, Hazanavicius shows his arrogance but also his disdain not only for JLG, but also for cinema at large.■
Redoubtable / Le Redoutable│ Director: Michel Hazanavicius│ Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius│ Camera: Guillaume Schiffman│ Editing: Jacob Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius│ Music: -│ Cast: Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin, Bérénice Bejo│ Producer: Oury Milshtein│ Production Company: Les Compagnons du Cinéma / France 3 Cinéma│Country: France│ Year: 2017│ Running Time: 107 min.│ International Sales: Wild Bunch │ Festival: Cannes IFF 2017│