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redoubtable review
Chronicle of the doomed marriage of filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and actress Anne Wiazemsky.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin, Berenice Bejo, Micha Lescot, Gregory Gadebois

redoubtable poster

The American critic Andrew Sarris once famously declared that filmmakers should choose between revolution and art, believing they were better off sticking to the latter. In the late 1960s, amid the Paris student and worker uprisings, Jean-Luc Godard chose revolution, declaring his previous movies as garbage and vowing to concentrate on political activism through cinema.

With Redoubtable, Michel Hazanavicius appears to suggest that Godard should have chosen art. His film picks up in 1967, as Godard (Louis Garrel), at the height of his fame, weds his young lover, the 19-year-old actress Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin). The initial wedded bliss soon gives way to hostility as Godard becomes a pariah in the European filmmaking community, doing his best to lose all his friends with his declarations that cinema is a bourgeois triviality.

redoubtable review

Yes, like many artists with ideas above their station, Godard was a bit of a dick, something Hazanavicius takes great relish in pointing out. While it's a film that's clearly enamoured of Godard the artist, in terms of portraying Godard the man, Godard the revolutionary, it's the filmic equivalent of a comedy roast. Much of the comedy comes from Godard's political hypocrisy and naivete, constantly droning on about the evils of the middle class while dining in Paris's hippest restaurants. There's a wonderfully wry takedown of his credit card communism when a workers' strike leads to a petrol drought, leaving Godard stranded in the countryside, infuriated that socialism has backfired on him.

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Like Woody Allen's Stardust Memories, there's much talk of the public's desire for Godard to return to making more entertaining fare than the didactic La Chinoise (a recurring statement from the supporting cast is "I haven't seen your latest, but I hear it's very good").

redoubtable review

Could Hazanavicius be using Godard's plight to comment on his own career perhaps? After snagging an Oscar for 2011's The Artist, the very definition of light entertainment, Hazanavicius 'went straight' with The Search, a remake of Fred Zinneman's Holocaust drama set during the Russian invasion of Chechnya, practically parodying the idea of a comic filmmaker's desperate attempt to be taken seriously. After the critical pounding that film took, Hazanavicius has very much returned to his 'early funny ones' with Redoubtable, a return to the '60s influenced style seen in his OSS 117 spy spoofs.

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Hazanavicius shoots his film as a homage/parody of Godard's late '60s aesthetic, all seemingly endless parallel tracking shots, lurid primary colours and laughably pretentious inter-titles. It's a visually dazzling, sugary treat of a film, falling somewhere between Frank Tashlin and early Woody Allen (there's a wonderful Annie Hall inspired sequence in which two sets of subtitles appear, revealing the hidden meaning of a passive aggressive conversation), and its pace is, well, breathless (sorry!).

redoubtable review

Such visual audacity would ring hollow of course if Redoubtable's leading man weren't up to the formidable task of portraying the central character, but Garrel's Godard is a fascinating creation, a left wing Alan Partridge desperate for love while doing his very best to appear anything but. Garrel captures the arrogance and ignorance of a frustrated artist, and also the cruelty. Godard's relationship with Wiazemsky sees him wielding his status and power to bully his young wife, and his jealousy borders on the neurotic. In her meatiest role since bursting onto the European arthouse scene with Nymphomaniac, Martin is equally compelling here, delivering a performance that's initially adorable but ultimately heartbreaking.

The most entertaining biopic of a filmmaker since Tim Burton's Ed Wood, Redoubtable is a committedly unserious look at an artist's desperate quest to be taken seriously. Now that Hazanavicius isn't so desperate himself to be taken seriously, we can take him seriously again, as Redoubtable is seriously good, without being very serious. Have I lost you?

Redoubtable is on MUBI UK now.