One of the unofficial laws surrounding biopics is the more complex and rich the subject, the more reductive and superficial the treatment of the life. Redoubtable is ostensibly about a great cinema revolutionary, Jean-Luc Godard, but his life and art are alas interpreted by Michel Hazanavicius, a director who wears his slim talent for pastiche heavily.
Hazanavicius is best known for The Artist, one of the least deserving Best Picture Winners in recent times. The Artist was an amusing idea for a short film inflated into a bland caricature of silent film comedy. Before The Artist, he was best known in France for the OSS117 films, the kind of James Bond parodies that make a rainy Sunday afternoon bearable when there are no real James Bond films on TV. After The Artist, Hazanvicius reached for the stars and fell from his stepladder with an unwieldy remake of Fred Zinnemann’s The Search. Not without ambition (or humility) he now gives the world his take on Godard’s mid-sixties period and marriage to actress Anna Wiazemsky with a few rear-view glances of the political ferment of France in 1967/68.
The vapid screenplay is based in part on Wiazemsky’s memoir, Un an Après, but in any meaningful terms, the life on screen often has the verisimilitude of an episode of The Monkees. Like many great filmmakers, Godard may be a pain in real life – self-absorbed, moody, demanding and contrarian, but as portrayed by Louis Garrel, who is given little in the script to work with, he is a gnomic jerk who carries a Super-8 camera almost everywhere. Most of the depth, energy and wit in this shallow film comes from Stacy Martin as Wiazemsky. And while she barely looks like her real-life counterpart, Martin does a credible job playing a woman who is ambitious, bright and emancipated, but realizes that even the hippest man in her life lags behind when it comes to discarding sexism.
Redoubtable half-heartedly shows what kind of films Godard made in this period (La Chinoise is restaged with some conviction, but there is barely a mention of Weekend, Sympathy With The Devil/One Plus One, British Sounds or the emerging collaborations with Jean-Pierre Gorin). There are well-staged demonstration and riot scenes in the first half that suggest Hazanavicius is not en-tirely without craft or flair, but the bulk of the film lacks a clear visual awareness or thematic under-standing of who Godard is or his place in film history.
Redoubtable relies far too much on scenes of the Godard/Wiazemsky characters bickering in apartments, hotel rooms or film locations. These scenes only painfully remind one of the magic Godard brought to such basic material in Breathless or Contempt and how little of that mastery Hazanavicius can replicate. Adding insult to cinematic injury, Berenice Bejo is wasted as Michele Rosier, a journalist and designer of the period, essentially reduced to a “girlfriend” role in the few scenes she has.
Ultimately Redoubtable suffers from two problems. It offers those of us who know Godard’s life and films well little insight or new information. While for those who only know Godard as“difficult” or “pretentious”, it will hardly promote a further desire to seek out his work. Hazanavicius has produced a series of flickering celluloid images that are pretty to look at, but barely a film in any pro-found sense. In the end, as with his previous work, one yearns for him to make a film informed by real life rather than just a nodding acquaintance with film clichés.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writers: Anne Wiazemsky (autobiography “Un an après”), Michel Hazanavicius (screenplay)
Stars:Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin, Bérénice Bejo
Redoubtable is in cinemas from Friday 4th of May