Godard Mon Amour aka Redoubtable

Louis Garrel and Stacy Martin

 

Le Redoutable aka Redoubtable aka Godard Mon Amour is another exercise in period spoofing for Michel Havanicius, the French film-maker who made his name with pastiches – notably winning an Oscar for The Artist, the faux silent movie having followed two 007 spoofs, the OSS 117 movies.

In all three a fictional character was held up for mild ridicule while Hazanavicius and his team sweated the small stuff, getting thousands of details just so in an attempt to conjure a world back into existence.

As with the OSS films the period this time is again the 1960s but this time the central figure isn’t fictional, it’s director Jean-Luc Godard, the hippest man in 1960s cinema, the Bob Dylan of the big screen.

Hazanavicius’s story picks up Godard (Louis Garrel) just at the point where he’s married the star of his latest film, La Chinoise, beautiful waif Anne Wizniewska (Stacy Martin)– she’s around 20, he’s mid 30s – and follows them through the “events” of 1968 and out the other side, when their relationship collapses.

En route we see an eminently reasonable, fun and accommodating (and frequently naked) Wiazemsky contending with a difficult, withdrawn, argumentative, aggressive, needy, cold Godard. Beauty and the Beast, one representing cinema as entertainment, the other cinema as revolution at 24 frames per second.

Echoing Marx’s remarks on history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce, Hazanavicius replays the events of 68 – Godard and Wiazemsky on the streets, attending debates with students, disrupting the Cannes film festival – each time putting a lightly farcical spin on things. If Godard was the hero of his own narrative back then, he isn’t here.

 

Bérénice Bejo and Micha Lescot
Rosier (Bérénice Bejo) with Bamban (Micha Lescot)

 

Nor is he entirely at the centre of things. His not-so-glorious passage is seen through the eyes of Anne, and her sister in combat Rosier (Bérénice Bejo), another glamorous trophy of a successful artistic male, Bamban (Micha Lescot).

With a number of intervening decades between him and his subjects, Hazanavicius appears to be tentatively offering two real criticisms of the man. Godard fails to realise that he’s too old to be part of a youthquake, even with a hot young wife at his side. Perhaps even more to the point, he’s actually a member of the bourgeois class he’s railing against (as, for that matter, are the students tearing up the cobbles to throw at the police, but that’s another matter).

As soon as I saw those dark prescription glasses and thinning thatch I knew exactly who Louis Garrel was meant to be and that I wanted to see this film. He’s perfect as Hazanavicius’s fallible version of Godard. I’ve got no reference point for Wiazemsky but Martin (after Nymphomaniac another heroically underclad role for her) plays her as a smart, untutored young woman in thrall to a maestro she’ll eventually outgrow.

Godard hates this film. “A stupid, stupid idea,” he called it, and while it’s never going to have the mass appeal of The Artist, and there’s only so many impetuous sulks you can watch, there’s sport to be had watching Godard’s legend being adjusted – each of the chapter headings alludes to one of his films, for example.

You’ll be bored if you’re not into Godard, most likely, but Hazanavicius does try to head resistance off at the pass, with several scenes of pure Godard pastiche, fourth-wall this and meta-that, including the memorable one where Godard and Wiazemsky discuss the dramatic justification of on-screen nudity (“if the role demands it” etc) while both being naked for no reason except to poke fun at this sort of artistic piety.

Godard was wrong about cinema and revolution in the 1960s. The decade got its rocks off to music not pictures, though Godard continued up the cul-de-sac of “non-bourgeois” film-making to the point where his films became products of participatory democracy, with everyone involved having a vote on every artistic decision. Hazanavicius closes his film at the point where Godard, at work on a film, is forced to go along with one such democratically arrived-at decision, one he disagrees with. Close-up on the face of a man who who’s theorised himself into a dead end, hoist on is own farcically tragic petard.

 

Godard Mon Amour aka Le Redoutable – watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

The Artist

Bérénice Bejo and Malcolm McDowell in The Artist

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

16 May

 

First Academy Awards, 1920

On this day in 1929, the first Academy Awards presentations were made, at a private dinner hosted by Douglas Fairbanks at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Louis B Meyer had created the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences two years earlier, and later stated that “I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them… that’s why the Academy Award was created.” These were the only Academy Awards not to get radio (later TV) coverage. The awards covered the years 1927 and 1928 and had been announced three months earlier. Best Actor went to Emil Jannings, Best Actress to Janet Gaynor, Outstanding Picture (which would later become Best Picture) to Wings, and Unique Artistic Production to Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. By the following year the Unique Artistic Production award had been dropped, as had the notion of the acting awards being for work in general (Jannings got his gong for The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh). In an award that would have serious implications for the industry, Warner Bros picked up an honorary Award for producing The Jazz Singer, the “pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionised the industry.”

 

 

 

The Artist (2011, dir: Michel Hazanavicius)

In 2006 Michel Hazanavicius directed OSS: 117 Cairo, Nest of Spies and in 2007 OSS 117: Lost in Rio, two films which, though they drew on the OSS series of books which predated Ian Fleming’s creation, spoofed the James Bond films of the Sean Connery era. Lots of films had already spoofed Bond, of course, from Matt Helm and Our Man Flint to Austin Powers and Undercover Brother. What made the OSS films different was the sheer attention to detail, and the on-the-nose performance of their star, Jean Dujardin, as the casually sexist, racist, unreconstructed red-blooded spy.
Hazanavicius and Dujardin pulled off the same trick with The Artist, but rather than their film being the sort of thing mentioned in passing by cinephiles to prove that they’ve put in the hours, it became an international sensation, an event movie that went on to win the Best Picture Oscar. The working method was the same – get the production design right, get the film stock and camera movements right, get the actors right, then add just a touch of knowingness – a tiny teeny bit, just enough to alert the audience that a genre is being twitted. Satirised would be going too far. We get that nudge in The Artist right near the beginning, when we’re watching Dujardin’s silent film star George Valentin, and the orchestral soundtrack to The Artist lines up with the film that Dujardin is playing in on screen. This sleight of ear is all that’s necessary to make us realise what’s afoot, sophisticated readers of film language that we all are. And once we are in the know we’re treated to a familiar story, about a big film star (Dujardin) who hits the skids and a nobody (Bérénice Bejo) who is on the rise, a love story of missed opportunity, because the two lovers are on separate escalators heading in opposing directions. Dujardin plays George Valentin as somewhere between Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino, all teeth, winks and impulsive gestures; Bejo’s Peppy Miller is a cross of Louise Brooks and Greta Garbo, sexy, vital, mysterious. Watched simply at the level of story it works, in the way A Star Is Born always works (even in the Streisand version), even though it’s a film which had plenty of people in plenty of cinemas walking out in a huff before even giving it a chance – “I’m not paying good money for a silent film” one wise shopper was heard harrumphing as she flounced out in Liverpool. But it isn’t just a silent film. In fact it’s not a silent film at all; it’s just playing with the idea. There is a soundtrack throughout; there’s even a line of dialogue spoken at one point.
If you’re up for this sort of thing and want to watch at the level of “I am paying good money for a silent film” then you will probably wince when someone in The Artist is given the middle finger, and wonder who on earth ever punched the air in “yay” fashion back in the era of Laurel and Hardy. But for the most part it’s remarkable – silent films from Keaton to Von Stroheim have been studied and worked into the mix. There are fat legged nurses and kindly doctors, the extras are so good that they look like they’ve been spliced in from old silent movies. The camera wobbles as it dollies in for a close-up. And it’s got an incredibly cute dog in it, who plays dead and hides its face with its paw. There’s even a tap-dancing finale, for God’s sake. Irresistible.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A meta silent movie
  • Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo
  • A support cast including John Goodman, James Cromwell and Malcolm McDowell
  • Laurence Bennett’s remarkable production design

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The Artist – at Amazon