Jean-Luc Godard’s famous dictum was: 'all you need for a movie is a girl and a gun'. In Redoubtable, French director Michel Hazanavicius’s jaunty biopic of Godard, set during the student insurrection of 1968, which premièred yesterday at Cannes Film Festival, there is plenty of the first and none of the latter. The girl is Anne Wiazemsky, Godard’s teenage bride and one-time muse, who wrote an elegant memoir of their time together, Un an après, which is the basis for Hazanavicius’s film.
Wiazemsky’s role is taken by French-English actress Stacy Martin who reveals almost as much flesh here as she did in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Though, it must be said, Hazanavicius, an Oscar-winning director of The Artist, is operating on an altogether classier plain. Martin is fine if a bit wooden. The real star here is hunky French actor Louis Garrel who plays against type as the lisping, balding filmmaker.
He’s short-sighted too and Hazanavicius comes up with a wonderful running gag whereby each time Godard gets caught up in a student riot he busts another pair of glasses. Garrel is instantly believable as the socially awkward director whose idea of a good date is to drag Wiazemsky along to a screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.
Their May-to-December romance (Godard was 36 and Wiazemsky 19 when they married) blossomed when the director cast Wiazemsky as a Maoist student in his proto-revolutionary film La Chinoise (1967). From the off there is some very amusing, waspish dialogue but Hazanavicius also misses a few tricks.
In one scene Godard comes back home to Wiazemsky in a huff after a sour screening of La Chinoise at the Chinese Embassy in Paris. 'They said it was the work of a reactionary imbecile,' grumbles Godard, who had anticipated the red carpet being rolled out. Nice line, but how much more fun it would have been to see the scene played out in real time as opposed to having it merely talked about.
Hazanavicius’s main focus in Redoubtable (named after an indestructible French submarine that Godard waxes lyrical about) is the director’s disenchantment with the 'sentimental' brand of filmmaking that has made him famous with films like À bout de souffle and Le Mépris. Instead he sets his heart on a collective form of political filmmaking without traditional storytelling tropes.
Throughout it all Godard rails against De Gaulle, who he inveighs against as 'a shit-pump' at one student demonstration. Here, again, Hazanavicius somewhat fudges his source material. Wiazemsky’s legal guardian was her grandfather François Mauriac, a devout Catholic, who had a glittering career as a novelist and was a fervent ally of De Gaulle. Much to Godard’s chagrin he had to ask the 80-year-old Mauriac for Wiazemsky’s hand in marriage. Now that would have been a scene worth shooting but there is no mention of Mauriac in Hazanavicius’s film and more is the pity.