While Redoutable – Michel Hazanavicius’ new feature about director Jean-Luc Godard – may appear on the surface to be simply a film about a short period in the life of the revered director and figurehead of the Nouvelle Vague, it’s a film told from a very specific point of view, that of Godard’s then wife Anne Wiazemsky. Based on Un An Après, it is as much about Anne’s life with Godard, the pressures, contradictions and joy that that involved, as it is about Godard himself. It is then a film about a certain view of Godard.
Louis Garrel takes on the unenviable task of playing Godard – doing so in a way that renders Godard a figure of fun but also strangely a slightly sympathetic tragic figure – and Stacy Martin slides into the role of Anne with all the naturalism that would make you almost believe that she’s not acting at all.
The film meets Godard and Anne at an interesting point in his career. His commercial successes are behind him, he’s just finishing up La Chinoise – in which Anne starred – and just about to embark on a very political period of his career, one that he is arguably still in. Enamoured with Maoist ideologies, Godard is ready to throw away his previous work away and declare cinema and ‘Godard’ to be dead. The time is right for a revolution, in every way. Except there’s a slight phoniness to Godard’s cries for revolution and destruction of the bourgeoisie in Redoutable – and arguably in real life – that makes for effective comedy and a touch of tragedy. There will no doubt be an argument made that Redoutable is somewhat right leaning in it’s takedown of the left, but extremism is always an easy and great target for comedy, whichever side it’s on. And simply poking a little fun at one side of the political spectrum doesn’t automatically place you on the other side.
It’s worth pointing out again at this point though that this a film told very much from Anne’s point of view and in the film’s early scenes you can see her falling in love with Godard and looking up to his ideals, even if his execution is somewhat comedic. As their relationship goes on she begins to feel trapped, in a way that mirrors how Godard himself feels trapped by his own career, and any minor hypocrisy or chink in their relationship is magnified.
None of this is to say that the film is a particularly deep dive into relationship dynamics or the politics of France in the late sixties. It’s all there and it supplies an interesting setting for the film, but for the most part Redoutable is actually a rather fun and frothy comedy, filled with broad gags – a recurring joke about Godard breaking his glasses makes for some genuinely hilarious slapstick – and some slightly, only slightly, more intellectual jokes surrounding film form. One sequence in which the pair discuss nudity in cinema whilst they are both naked, for instance, isn’t exactly a highly complex joke, but it’s really good one that gets a lot of laughs.
Before seeing Redoutable, it was hard to imagine Hazanavicius making a film about the ‘political Godard’, particularly as many were expecting something of a drama – especially after his underwhelming and wildly derided The Search – but Redoutable finds Hazanavicius more closely aligned with his early wonderful OSS 117 films than with his most recent work, and it is all the better for it. Whilst it may homage and satirise a few aspects of the Nouvelle Vague’s stylistic excesses, it frequently has more in common with Woody Allen’s early work than it does with Godard’s. A fun and frivolous film that will almost certainly provoke strong reactions from late period Godard obsessives.