One remembers French director Michael Hazanavicius’s The Artist, a beautiful black and white portrait of the silent Hollywood. He has now returned to the Cannes Film Festival – six years later that is – with his yet another gripping work, Redoubtable. A wonderful tribute to Jean-Luc Godard, Redoubtable has been adapted from a biography of the celebrated auteur penned by his former wife, Anne Wiazemsky.
Hazanavicius’ movie revolves around the time when Godard was helming what is famously known as his revolutionary work, La Chinoise. The time was 1967, a turbulent period in French history, which saw a workers’ demonstration followed by a serious student unrest.
As the Festival enters its sixth day on Monday, Redoubtable has been one of the few films that impressed this critic. It has been executed with remarkable finesse, has noteworthy performances and it narrates the story of a marriage gone sour at times when the French literary circles were driven by unending contradictions. Godard was an integral part of it.
What is the story all about? Godard’s short but passionate marriage to an actress – who later became a fiction writer -- Anne Wiazemsky. She was almost 20 years younger than Godard, and was everything that the man was not. He was brooding, critical, restrictively conservative when it came to her (there is a scene where he asks Anne not to do a movie because every scene has a nude shot of her’s and well, the poor director changes his script to have only the hero strip – a hilarious take that it then becomes) and so damn difficult when it came to other aspects of life and living.
In fact, much of the film is based on Anne’s biography, titled Un An Apres (One Year Later), and much of the celluloid work is seen from her point of view. She narrates much of it, indeed.
Godard was 37, and Anne barely 19, and the auteur was passing through a troublesome phase in his career. He was making La Chinoise, a movie influenced by Mao. She was acting in it, but when the the film runs into rough weather critically, Godard gets moody and irritable and argumentative. “Nobody can win an argument with you” says one of his friends.
The movie’s failure was followed by the unrest in 1968 – a year that saw Godard and his friends like Francois Truffaut storming the Cannes Film Festival and forcing it to pull its curtains down, One is told that Truffaut, who had been declared persona non-grant by the Festival because of his acerbic criticism of French cinema, sneaked into Cannes to cause mayhem. Both felt that Cannes should not run when there was so much suffering all around.
At home, Godard was facing his own little tempest, and the relationship with Anne was hitting the rocks.
All this has been pictured most realistically – with a touch of wit and sarcasm (one often felt that the film was also an indictment of all things wrong with the French society then). We clearly see Godard’s fear of ageing , his nagging doubts about his own creative ability and his narcissistic tendencies. All these rob his life and marriage of peace – the political storm outside his home adding to his own disquiet.
Redoubtable is bound to do well in France and other parts of Europe. For much like Satyajit Ray and Tagore – who have been deeply ingrained in the psyche of an average Indian (certainly Bengali) – Godard and Truffaut will remain forever in these parts of the world.
And this is precisely what Hazanavicius told the media soon after his movie was screened on Saturday night. “Anybody making cinema today owes something to Jean-Luc Godard. He unlocked so many doors, created so many spaces and made cinema possible for many people”.
Anne’s account gives the movie a kind of rare insightfulness. “The intelligence of Anne Wiazemsky’s account lies in the way she manages to retain the aspect of an intimate diary. She doesn’t recount the story from the point of view of the woman she is now, but rather the woman she was then. There is a real Jean-Luc Godard who exists, but no one really knows him. My aim is not to create a carbon copy of Godard. I am inventing Jean-Luc Godard out of the Jean-Luc Godard created by Jean-Luc Godard. Anne Wiazemsky’s account is another variation of a Jean-Luc Godard also created by Jean-Luc Godard”, the director quipped.
Finally, one can say with a lot of conviction that Hazanavicius has managed to make a film on a subject as heavy as Godard with a breeze. Nowhere did this critic feel Redoubtable too heavy or languid. Rather, it was lighthearted and even funny. Not an easy task, though.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival)
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