Le Redoubtable ★★★☆☆

Jean Luc Godard has been causing controversy at Cannes since the 1960s, even forcing the festival to close in 1968 out of sympathy for the striking workers and students the streets. This year, he divided opinion once more – and he wasn’t even here.

I’m talking about Le Redoubtable, a film by Oscar-winning director of The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius. Many French critics were horrified he was even attempting this film, a free-wheeling “exercise de style” about the year when their hero Godard married his young muse, Anna Wiazemsky (on whose memoir the film is loosely based), shut Cannes and decided he was no longer going to make the type of films he was famous for.

Putting Le Mepris, Pierrot le Fou, A Bout de Souffle and all that behind him, Godard attempts to redefine cinema and moves towards a political collective of radical film makers called the Dziga Vertov movement.

And, rightly or not, Hazanavicius makes him look rather foolish for doing so.

This is a comedy but it’s also a film about the perils of genius and a love story, or at least a tale of a marriage disintegrating under the weight of a man’s depression and principals. Played by Louis Garrel, this Godard is tortured, brilliant, pompous, bullying, arrogant, witty, irritating, rude, and a bit of klutz. It’s pretty mean about him. But it does look like he deserves it.

Ultimately, he also gets quite a lot of respect, especially for the work, so of course, there are a hundred references and cinephilic winks to Godard movies – Hazanavicius is spoofing iconic cinema here, and it’s a risk that doesn’t always work, even if it remains lively throughout. I think it captures the Paris of the time – well, maybe not the real Paris, but the Paris one gets an impression of through the films of Godard.

And amid all the jump cuts and pseudo-intellectual French posturing, there is a real emotion that develops here, in the coltishness of Stacey Martin’s often-naked performance as Anne, a young woman who simply can’t continue live with the man she initially idolised.

Le Redoubtable is the name of submarine with which Godard became slightly obsessed, and probably saw as some kind of metaphor for his own hermetic genius, plotting his own path under the (new) waves. This peppy pastiche about him also flirts with sinking but I think it’s also funny enough, cool enough and smart enough to know when to breathe.

 

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