Redoubtable movie review: Michel Hazanavicius’ biopic on Jean Luc Godard is an unforgivable parodic exercise
Redoubtable feels like paid lip-service with awful dialogue and an incoherent framework that belies everything that Jean Luc Godard stood for.
castLouis Garrel, Stacy Martin, Bérénice Bejo, Grégory Gadebois
Redoubtable, Michel Hazanavicius’ flimsy take on French film icon Jean Luc Godard’s revolutionary filmmaking phase, is a film which, ideally, shouldn’t have been made. And if the desire to exploit Godard’s legacy for monetary or pseudo-artistic benefits was imminent, the film shouldn’t have tried to ape his style in a terribly un-redoubtable manner, thereby reducing it to an unforgivable parodic exercise.
In any case, Hazanavicius couldn’t have measured up to the task at hand. But having brought his reductive style to the era of silent cinema with the soporific Oscar winning film The Artist, the director proceeds to mount a wholly dispensable portrait of a filmmaker whose name has now become synonymous with cinema itself.
Redoubtable, also known as Godard Mon Amour, is based on a book by Anne Wiazemsky. The actress was Godard’s collaborator and lover during the second half of the 60’s. By this time, Godard had begun to distance himself from his earlier cinematic output, including such acknowledged classics as Contempt and Breathless. He had begun to feel oppressed by the bourgeoisie nature of the film industry and started looking for an alternative, Maoist way of making films.
His maiden effort from this phase, La Chinoise, elicited scorn from critics and Maoists alike. The more he tried to meld the revolution with filmmaking, the more frustrated he became with the establishment, the protesting Parisian students of 1968 and, in Wiazemsky’s words, everyone around him. This slowly drove a wedge between the couple, concluding with a divorce around the time that Godard was shooting a Maoist Western.
Godard’s playful, inventive and formidable approach to filmmaking revolutionised cinema in the 60’s. Breathless, his debut film, took the world by storm with its irreverent jump cuts, madcap shot techniques and general disregard for the cinematic rulebook. But a deep seriousness and earnest engagement with the language of cinema underlay the playfulness that brought Godard universal renown. Hazanavicius decides to break his film into chapters, come up with terrible puns for chapter titles, randomly break the fourth wall, in short, throw a bagful of tricks at the audience in a bid to convince us that he is indeed making a film about Godard.
The gimmickry includes a profoundly insipid scene where Godard and Wiazemsky attend a screening of the silent classic, The Passion of Jon of Arc. In a terrible sleight of hand, Hazanavicius replaces the silent dialogue on screen with the couple’s mumbling attempts to connect with each other. Is he trying to foreshadow Wiazemsky’s martyrdom at the end of the film? Is he simply being daft? The fact that he drapes his ode to Godard in the genre of light comedy, undoubtedly an uninspired decision on its own, doesn’t serve to detract from the unwelcome absurdity of this scene.
Throughout, one can feel Hazanavicius desperately trying to maintain an objective distance from the aura of Godard. Perhaps that explains his decision to choose the revolutionary phase from his career, so full of pitfalls and errors. His Godard is contemptuous, jealous, peevish, ashamed of his bourgeoisie upbringing and, despite actor Louis Garrel’s best efforts, boring. The dialogue he’s made to mouth seems to be lifted out of a hormonally charged Nietzsche-devouring teen’s notebook. The couple is almost always surrounded by swathes of primary colours, to maintain the illusion that we are being made to suffer a film about Godard. Worst of all, the film is self-aware, annoyingly vulnerable to extended commentaries full of platitudes, including one about nudity in film. Yes, our actors are totally nude in it, and completely divorced from the scene that preceded this directorial reverie. A talented director who’s engaged substantially with Godard’s work could have fashioned a good portrait out of this material, for Godard is indeed inseparable from his films. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
To give the director some credit, he does manage to create a mildly interesting story of doomed love. In pasting together bits and pieces from Godard’s films, he tries to ape the master’s now celebrated style in order to put together a jigsaw puzzle with the face of the man. But the face is all we see. Godard’s ideas and, more forbiddingly, his soul as an artist remains elusive. They are paid lip-service with awful dialogue and an incoherent framework that belies everything that the maestro stood for. In essence, had Hazanavicius chosen to replace Godard with any Tom, Dick and Harry, even a fictional character, the film would have remained the same.
In Redoubtable, we witness Godard’s increasing isolation from the dominant revolutionary ideas of the time, and perhaps his eventual nod towards the majority at the end of the film, which Hazanavicius coincides with his separation from Wiazemsky. The oldest trick in the book, used to tell the story of a man who scorned at the very idea of rulebooks. That’s the great crime of Hazanavicius’ unnecessary film: submission. The cinematic equivalent of a retreat, absolutely inept while mounting the biopic of a man who, to this day, continues to flummox audiences with his strange patchworks of films.
Twice during the film, Godard is shown using the camera as a gun. After a particularly annoying discussion, he is shown shooting himself with it out of exasperation. Hazanavicius even goes to the length of depicting Godard’s suicide attempt in an awkwardly lazy manner. There are less unwieldy ways of showing one man’s exasperation and growing belief in the death of cinema. But as Godard continues to show to this day, what the caterpillar calls the end, the world calls a butterfly. However, if Godard does decide to watch Redoubtable, one will perhaps forgive him if he reaches for a gun for real. And all Hazanavicius will do is to exclaim, “What can you do? Such is life on board the Redoubtable.”
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