Cannes 2017: Michel Hazanavicius’s Redoubtable

On Film / The Daily — May 21, 2017

“Arguably, more question marks hung over the prospect of Redoubtable than over any other film in Cannes this year,” begins Jonathan Romney in Screen. “One reason was the idea of Michel Hazanavicius, director of the world-beating The Artist, seeming too mainstream a talent to take on a story about so radical and heavyweight a figure as Jean-Luc Godard. Another was that advance stills of Louis Garrel as Godard suggested the mother of bad hair days. And yet Redoubtable turns out to pretty much merit its title. It’s a dazzlingly executed, hugely enjoyable act of stylistic homage, but also the poignant story of a dysfunctional marriage and an insightful recreation of a critical and contradiction-ridden period of modern French history. Only hardcore Godardians—a pretty unforgiving bunch—would reject it out of hand.”

“Godard-worshipers and Hazanavicius-skeptics should keep a couple of things in mind before sharpening their pitchforks,” advises Nikola Grozdanovic at the Playlist. “Firstly, the film is a comedy and any analytical inspections of something deeper and more meaningful will only end in scrunched up bits of frustration. Secondly, it’s not really about Godard. It’s not a biopic, nor a commentary on his universal cinematic influence. The film is based on Godard’s ex-wife Anne Wiazemsky’s novel Un An Apres (A Year After) and focuses on the rise and fall of the couple’s marriage. In essence, Hazanavicius has gone back to being a film geek who plays in his harmless sandbox with subjects that are not way over his head, crafting—for the most part—a pretty delightful popcorn movie for other film geeks.”

For Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, the “surprise of Redoubtable, which turns out to be a lightly audacious and fascinating movie (if not exactly one to warm your heart), is that though it is, in fact, structured around Godard’s marriage to Wiazemsky, its real subject is his life as an artist—in particular, the way his relationship to filmmaking got turned on its head during the crucial period of late 1967 and ’68, when he was drawn into the national spasm of protest that was May 1968 and became obsessed with ‘revolution,’ to the point that he shed the skin of the filmmaker he’d been in his glory days.”

“This movie simply takes it as read that a film about Jean-Luc Godard cannot function without Godardian pastiche and Godardian in-jokes,” notes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “So there are many visual and stylistic homages to the great man: quirky slogan-ish intertitles, distancing tricks, 60s furniture, jazz, advertising, and entranced shots of a woman’s naked body . . . Hazanavicius is also pretty unsparing and unsentimental about the ugly, charmless and narcissistic side to Godard. Desperate to out-radical the students who might mock him, the posturing Godard raises the issue of Palestine at a packed meeting and declaims that ‘Jews are the new Nazis’: a fatuous shock-tactic which is received in icy silence.”

Redoubtable’s Godard is “a 38-year-old abrasive jerk with an enormous chip on his shoulder,” writes Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com, while “Anne (Stacy Martin) is seen as the thoughtful but adoring child bride . . . This is a film that has an ax to grind,” and Scharres argues that the “question becomes who is self-serving here.” At the end, the narrator, presumably Hazavanicius, “declares that the Godard who once held him enthralled has died for him too, leaving him liberated to be his own artist.”

More on the ending from the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy, who notes that it “shows Godard reluctantly relinquishing the director’s assumed autocratic control of a film (Wind from the East) in deference to the collective decisions of the entire crew, is rather disturbing in that it essentially suggests that Godard committed creative suicide with his break from the past, a notion with which his most ardent champions would take great exception.”

At Cineuropa, Fabien Lemercier argues that, as an adaptation of Wiazemsky’s novel, Redoubtable’s “point of view is therefore the simultaneously lovestruck and lucid gaze that this young Philosophy student turns towards her illustrious partner, which allows the movie to sketch out the myriad facets of a glamorized creator in the midst of crisis and, at the same time, a simple man in a relationship. And its success is made all the sweeter by the ‘soap bubble’ style (in the proper, joyful sense of the term) of the mise-en-scène, which alleviates all of the weighty seriousness that a more conventional approach would have entailed. And this is precisely how Hazanavicius manages to make his gamble of offering a Godard-like freedom to the whole pay off—in other words, it’s the best way to pay an offbeat, affectionate and caustic tribute to such an emblematic figure in the history of cinema.”

For IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, “the main triumph of Hazanavicius’s film is that it makes the heavyweight auteur human.”

“Some people probably think me telling Godard’s story is blasphemy,” Hazanavicius tells Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian. “My friends were worried. But he’s not my hero or my God. Godard is like the leader of a sect and I’m an agnostic.” Hazanavicius says Wiazemsky almost turned him down until he mentioned that the film would be a comedy: “She said, ‘I think it was a funny relationship and a funny time.’”

Variety’s Elsa Keslassy asks Hazanavicius about Godard’s response to the project: “I let him know that I was making the film from the first day of preparation, and sent him the script, but didn’t hear back. I also invited him to a screening of the movie ahead of Cannes but he didn’t come. I’m not surprised, and there are no hard feelings on my end. To me, he’s one of the five to eight directors who changed the history of cinema.”

And, talking to the Hollywood Reporter’s Tatiana Siegel, he adds: “I am expecting something very harsh in my direction. I expect it. I’m prepared for it. I called my parents and I said to them, ‘Don’t worry. He might say something very, very personal.’”

Updates, 5/22: “This was a disaster waiting to happen,” writes David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “One of the great icons of European cinema, an artist of sublime intellectual rigour who exists in a perpetual state of creative reinvention, becomes the subject of a glossy biopic from one of the continent’s crowd-pleasing showmen. . . . What could possibly go wrong? To be honest, nothing much. But then not too much goes right either.”

For the A.V. Club’s A. A. Dowd, “the major problem here is that Le Redoutable is a jokey Wikipedia cartoon of a biopic, skin deep in its character study and aggressively amused by its own barrage of Trivial Pursuit winks. . . . Due respect to the real Godard, but this isn’t such a stupid idea that someone like Todd Haynes couldn’t have made a rocking term-paper flashback out of it.”

For John Bleasdale at CineVue, “Redoubtable begins to resemble a 107-minute wink. One cake-and-eat-it moment involves both actors deprecating nudity in films while completely starkers. This would have been funnier if we hadn't already had so much Anne-nudity, including an inevitable Le Mépris parody. That said, Garrel and Miller manage to create a credible chemistry. Garrel's Godard is an intellectual Mr. Bean, constantly falling on his backside and breaking his glasses. But he is also an insecure husband who can't quite believe his luck. Miller is great in going from worshipping ingenue to a savvy actress who needs to escape her husband's misanthropic shadow.”

Redoubtable is often cartoonish but the colorful and modish period look and feel are fun,” writes Time Out’s Dave Calhoun, “and a creeping admiration underlines the whole thing. If it turns audiences on to real Godard films, where’s the harm?”

Talking to Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa, Hazanavicius calls his film a “a blend of respectful tribute and irreverence.”

Updates, 5/23: “While it would be outrageous to compare the two as artists, there is a lateral similarity in how Hazanavicius’s imagination of Godard may be colored by his own history as a filmmaker,” suggests David Acacia at the International Cinephile Society. “His stubborn obsession with La chinoise evokes memories of when his own politically muddled The Search was critically savaged at Cannes in 2014, soon after the rapturous response to his Academy Award-winning Best Picture The Artist, similar to how La chinoise humbled Godard after being at the top of his craft. Like Godard, Hazanavicius has been forced to reflect on what went awry, and drawing from what he appears to have gleaned from Godard, uses Godardian techniques to fortify Le redoutable. In The Artist, Hazanavicius already proved his flair for comedy, and in Le redoutable, he flexes these dormant muscles. Using meta, self-referential winks in aural descriptions of the active, visual mise-en-scène, Hazanavicius’s comedy becomes more sophisticated than it was before.”

“The film has its funny moments but one certainly cannot call it an affectionate portrait of Godard,” writes Ali Moosavi for Film International.

Update, 5/24: “The comedic action is superficially entertaining at the start, with Garrel lisping his way through a self-aware imitation of Godard and Hazanavicius playfully stitching together scenes of marital discord and sociopolitical bickering with brisk editing rhythms and rapid-fire dialogue,” writes Sam C. Mac at the House Next Door. “But as that effort continues to reduce the bold ideas and philosophies of Godard's ‘revolutionary’ period—as well as the toll his ideologies took on his personal and professional relationships—into fodder for dopey, simple-minded parody, Hazanavicius once again outs himself as a shallow opportunist, and Redoubtable as another empty exercise in borrowed style.”

“It’s more Pastiche du Godard than Histoire(s) du Godard,” writes Rory O’Connor at the Film Stage, “and that’s not a bad thing.” Yes, it
“has the potential to infuriate the more devout of Godard followers but there is plenty of good-hearted goading and creative homage to savor for the less pedantic fan.”

Update, 5/26: Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold sees “a not-so-hidden edge to all this: JLG’s political positions are depicted as fundamentally a drag, and his ability to argue them often exposed as limited. (Not to mention that the arc of the story makes it sound as if Godard directed no films of note after his political turn with Dziga Vertov Group.) It’s a little hard to watch a master filmmaker mocked for being self-serious by a director coming off a self-serious turkey called The Search, lambasted at Cannes in 2014. One might see a kind of creative revenge going on: Hazanavicius has his cake and eats it too by taking a wildly experimental and politically fearless filmmaker down a peg, all while directing a successful crowd-pleaser. The Artist, indeed.”

Updates, 5/27: “Call me a crypto-revisionist lackey of the mainstream, if you will . . .” Jonathan Romney’s back for more, writing this time around for Sight & Sound. “Yes, it unashamedly trivializes Godard, and arguably reduces the events of May 1968 to a chic stylized backdrop. But, never outright iconoclastic, still less hostile, Redoubtable simply places the odd banana skin under the great man’s feet, with irreverent fondness. Even JLG unconditionals might find deux ou trois choses to enjoy.”

“Cohen Media Group has bought the North American rights,” reports Variety’s Dave McNary.

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