The French invented cinema and the Americans turned it into a big industry. If Hollywood loves making films about Hollywood, why should not make the French also films about the French cinema? Especially if we are talking about a director (Michel Hazanavicius) who already made a very successful film about Hollywood ("The Artist"). Here is his daring approach to a genre which is surprisingly new for the French cinema - movies about movies. "Redoubtable" is a daring endeavor because the subject is one year in the life of one of the most controversial film directors in the history - Jean-Luc Godard., a complex artist and personality who is also still with us, making films and even commenting on films made about him.
The year is also not any other year, but 1968, one of the milestones in the history of the 20th century, a crossroad also in the history of France. The revolts of the students that peaked in May of that year had several sources of inspiration - anarchist and Maoist ideloogies among them, but also works of philosophers like Jean Paul Sartre and, yes, movies, among which Jean-Luc Godard's "La Chinoise". The French director had gained fame in the decade before with some of the best known films of the French 'Nouvelle Vague'. Some had ideological content, some other 'just' revolutionized (together with films by François Truffaut and a few other) the language of cinema. "La Chinoise" had marked the final of that period and the start of another, a much more politically oriented stage in his creation. It also marked the beginning of the relationship soon to turn into marriage with Anne Wiazemsky. (the second for Godard, after he had married and divorced Anna Karina). The implication of Godard in politics and the rocky marriage with Anne are the principal topics of "Redoubtable". The Godard in the film does not come very clean from this historical re-evaluation on screen which is based on the novel-memoirs of his ex-wife. He appears as a 'gauchist' intellectual who sides with the revolt and hates police, but his behavior and way of life belong to the class he despises. His ideology seems more anarchist and quite remote from realities. He fails to understand the totalitarian ways of his idols Mao and Che and is stupefied when "La Chinoise" is rejected by the Chinese embassy as 'reactionary art' and he is refused a promotion trip to China. His joining of the May 1968 revolts leads to confusing speeches in the meeting halls at Sorbonne, including an outrageous rant paralleling Jews and Nazis. He is, as many other before him, a victim of a revolution in march that devours its idols. Eventually he makes the right choice understanding that an artist can better serve the revolution by means of art, and for a while he looks better holding a camera on the streets of Paris in 1968, or founding the Djiga Vertov collective of politically active filmmakers. This may lead to another impasse, an artistic one, but that will not be part of the story in this film.
I liked the film. Michel Hazanavicius uses a technique that he already successfully applied in "The Artist" - talking about a past period in the history of the cinema with the cinematographic tools specific to that era. He even added more nuances, as different episodes are filmed in different styles adapted to the content. We see the scenes with Paris on barricades filmed with 'Nouvelle Vague' hand-held camera. A trip by car in which a crowded mix of film-makers and actors get a speech from their driver about the simple taste in cinema of the masses, so remote from their experiences, is filmed in a static car, like in an American movie of the 30s or 40s. At the peak of the domestic crisis the unbearable soundtrack covers the voices of the disputing lovers. Louis Garrel created a Godard who oscillates between his (well deserved) ego and surprising moments of lack of confidence, who thinks in an ideological and doctrinaire manner but knows little about the people the ideology is supposed to serve, who models his life and art to politics and has little understanding or patience for his own adulating audiences. The relationship with Anne (Stacy Martin) is almost permanently one-directional, a crisis in building from the very first moments. Both actors do fine jobs, and they are placed in an environment that brings brilliantly to life the period for those spectators who lived it as well as for those who did not.
Focusing on politics and the stormy marriage between Jean-Luc and Anne, "Redoubtable" tells less about the cinema that he made - and 1968 was actually a very prolific year, as were the coming 3 or 4 years, although much of what he did was documentary of collective work within the Djiga Vertov group. The one scene that show him at work is filmed one year later, and hints to the fact that, at least for the coming period that was to last about another decade, Godard made a choice. Between art and revolution, he explicitly chose revolution. The final judgment about this period may have not been pronounced, and this film could be part of a re-opening of the discussions and more important - seeing again his films. Godard is Godard, and he never seems to accept to rest.
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Paris, 1967. Jean-Luc Godard, the maker of "A bout de souffle", "Le Mépris" and "Pierrot le fou", idolized by critics and intellectuals, is shifting from revolutionizing cinema to becoming a revolutionary tout court. Isn't he shooting "La Chinoise", more a political tract in favor of Maoism than an actual movie? His female star is Anne Wiazemsky, writer François Mauriac's granddaughter, sixteen years his junior. Anne and Jean-Luc have been dating since 1966 and they marry this very year. She admires Jean-Luc's originality, intelligence, wit and boldness while he loves Anne's freshness and - admiration of him. But May 1968 puts their marriage to the test. Godard, who is more and more involved in the revolution, indeed becomes less and less available to his young wife, which does not prevent him from acting jealous. It also looks as if the genius is losing his sense of humor.
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