Cannes 2017 Review: REDOUBTABLE Revisits The Legend Of Godard

Hazanavicius’ latest is a dark comedy about the famed director sure to divide audiences.

Redoubtable is a film that may only truly thrive with a specific environment. So much of its power is derived from the place it premiered, screening in the Palais du Cinema on the Croisettes in Cannes. It was at this festival in 1968 that the iconoclast Jean-Luc Godard bandied together with fellow brethren to stop the proceedings of pageantry, spoken in solidarity with the strikes that were calling for nothing short of another French Revolution.

This is a festival where for some the first three letters of Godard’s name undersell his importance to the nature of cinema itself. It was this group, overrepresented here, that set to be highly aggravated seeing any affront against JLG. They surrounded me at the screening, detesting the film, angst filling the air, boos shouted at the conclusion. 

Director Michel Hazanavicius gained international attention for The Artist, the charming, affable ode to silent cinema that pocketed Best Picture and Director trophies at the Academy Awards. Previously he’d directed a series of James Bond-like spoofs called OSS:117, and his 2014 Cannes bow was a misguided, miserable political period piece called The Search. Take all these elements –nostalgia and a keen eye for what made the films of previous eras work, the recent failed attempt at relevance with a passion project, and his former trade in farce and you’ve got the ingredients to take on the relationship between a 40-something Godard and his near-teen spouse Anne Wiazemsky.

Redoubtable is more straightforward a biopic than I’m Not There, and the way that the facets of the subject's art are manifested in the stylistic choices of the film provide a nice corollary between Haynes’ work and Hazanavicius’. There are Godardian ticks aplenty, from tracking shots to colour patterns, graffiti, female forms and framing that all mash into something between homage and parody. At the center is Jean-Luc (played with supreme competence by Louis Garrell) and Anne (a perfectly cast Stacey Martin), a near mythic couple that at once conforms to the most galling of Gaul stereotypes of such artist/ingénue coupling but also a pair that somehow manages to convey a true sense of shared romance and love.

What was made clear in discussing the film with its actor and director is that each sees Godard very differently, an aspect that manifests itself in the tension between the narrative and the intensity of Garrell’s take. It’s this collision that elevates the film, managing to be both a true celebration of this period of art and a complete pisstake on the ridiculous proselytizing and hypocritical hijinks of the famed director. 

It may not rise to the level of such a classic, but tonally it's reminiscent of Young Frankenstein, a work that at once parodied the Shelley story in broad comic terms while also being supremely in awe of the James Whale film, right down to using original set pieces and compositions to mirror without any form of irony the source material. Redoubtable dances a similar waltz, peppering late-'60s post-modernist chic with layer upon layer of allusion while simultaneously providing emotional heft and intellectual stimulation about the themes being discussed on screen.

These contrasting elements all serve a single purpose, to give a film truthful to JLG and Anne that’s almost entirely a lie, a mixup of legends and half-remembered stories that nonetheless feel nearly documentary-like. Recreations of the student marches and demonstrations are as beautifully rendered on screen as the visual mimicry of Godard’s own images. Even the most hoary of running gags – the breaking of the maestro’s glasses – revels in its banality, just as the famous lines about Jew-Nazis uttered by Godard at his most contemptible are with deftness shown to be the ramblings of a farcical character.

Look to a scene driving back from Cannes where a decade or so of French cinema plays out in one conversation, the petty argumentation and indifference wonderfully captured within the proscenium of a car windshield. This is bravura stuff, some sublime notes within a symphony of silly.

For those who followed Godard into his decades of scorning his masterpieces like Breathless in favour of detours less (shall we admit?) entertaining this film will annoy the shit out of you. For others that agree that a great artist lost his way due to hubris and mendacity, there may be space for them with this work. Best of all, those not so self-serious to demand fealty to the legend, but also familiar enough with the references to enjoy their playfulness, will get plenty out of Hazanavicius’ film. With its playful use of multi-layers, its provocative stance and its nonconformist streak that borders on the obnoxious Redoubtable may be, depending on your proclivities, an egregious abomination or the best damn film Godardian film of the last few decades.

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