Director is 'a better genre-prankster than he is a dramatist,' one critic writes
Credit: Cannes Film Festival

It takes guts to spin an embellished yarn about an industry master like Jean-Luc Godard, the renowned director who helped mold cinema as we know it as part of the French New Wave, but The Artist filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius took a considerable risk in crafting an unorthodox take on the life of an icon with Redoubtable, his Godard biopic that premiered in competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival over the weekend.

Luckily for Hazanavicius, the gamble seems to have paid off (for the most part), with a decent number of mainstream critics noting the project as a considerable step up from his recent, post-Artist work, if not quite on the level of the nostalgic silent film that put him on the international map, while others have dismissed the film as a glib trek into unfruitful, borderline sacrilegious territory.

“To be fair, not everything works. For all his sentimental ambitions, Hazanavicius is a better genre-prankster than he is a dramatist. But the fact that he plays to his strengths here instead of trying to work in a foreign register… shows that he recognizes that,” The Wrap‘s review reads. “Redoubtable isn’t the best movie playing in competition this year, but it is the only film-literate sketch comedy about a failing relationship, and that alone makes it a worthy addition in already stellar lineup.”

On the surface, Redoubtable is seemingly about Godard’s (played by Louis Garrel) love life — particularly his marriage to second wife Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), whose writings the film is adapted from — though critics have responded to Hazanavicius’ bold choice to push things one step further, additionally examining the filmmaker as he joined a series of protests in 1968 France, where students to the streets in the City of Lights to march against the country’s capitalist facets and Godard famously stepped back from his cinematic roots.

“Hazanavicius sprinkles Redoubtable with playful gambits that wink at some of the conceits from Godard’s ’60s films: titles that contradict what we’re seeing, a black-and-white sequence that reduces lovemaking to body parts, a starling burst of negative imagery,” Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman writes, also calling it a “lightly audacious” and “fascinating” film with comedic splashes that, perhaps more palpably, charts Godard’s uncoupling from the medium he helped revolutionize with the same tone that’s often applied to matters of interpersonal romance. “The classic films, in a way, are present, yet I wish that we saw a little more of the ebullience that went into them. The film’s tone is eager, fine-drawn, exploratory, but even though the mood remains relatively light, the story being told is unabashedly dark.”

Credit: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

While Godard, still a working filmmaker to this day, is considered one of the medium’s foremost figures, Hazanavicius is no stranger to critical adoration himself. He debuted The Artist — which would go on to receive Oscars for best picture and best director — on the Croisette in in 2011, generating raves that would later come back to bite him three years later, when he launched the poorly-received Annette Bening drama The Search to scathing reception at Cannes’ 67th edition in the shadow of his previous successes.

Perhaps the film’s best shot at bagging awards from the Cannes jury lies in the lead performance of French star Louis Garrel, who helps the film make personal, “disarming insights into the man’s complex makeup and difficult behavior,” according to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy.

“Louis Garrel jettisons his usual, often distractingly narcissistic mannerisms to totally submerge himself in an evocation of Godard that isn’t just imitation, despite certain vocal tics (lisp, sotto voce mutter, vaguely Swiss accent),” agrees Screen Daily‘s Jonathan Romney. “But he compellingly and often very amusingly evokes a man tormented by self-doubt, political anguish and fear of ageing, combining melancholic vulnerability with streaks of buffoonishness (there’s a neat running gag about JLG’s propensity to break his glasses).”

Finally, as to be expected with a film like this, several critics ripped the film apart. Echoing McCarthy’s sentiments about the film potentially rubbing cinephiles the wrong way, Slant‘s Sam C. Mac confirms: “Michel Hazanavicius never has trouble coming up with bad ideas, and turning the romantic life of Jean-Luc Godard into a screwball comedy will be hard for him to beat… Hazanavicius’s co-opts Godard’s personal life for cheap prestige-picture sentiment—and insults the auteur’s radical style with the most conservative iteration of it conceivable.”

Read on for more reactions to Redoubtable out of Cannes.

Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“Hazanavicius has zeroed in on the period of Godard’s most extraordinary personal and aesthetic hypocrisy, and he shows how the two worked in tandem. During the May ’68 protests, Jean-Luc shows up at conventions of students, but mostly to compete with them — and they hate him for it. (They’ve got his number.) And his radical-chic moral calculus is myopic. He’s capable of standing up and comparing the Jews in “Palestine” to the Nazis — but if that’s really his yardstick, why does he revere Chairman Mao, who was a genocidal sociopath? His politics, along with his pathological loathing of mainstream culture, are really a form of personalized fascism, and that’s why, in the end, he uses his ideological obsessions to push Wiazemsky away. She’s not ‘pure’ enough for him either. She gives him every chance, but there’s a reason their love dies, and it’s the same reason that Godard, after 1967, burrowed into an art of mostly untouchable obscurity. Redoubtable is the story of a filmmaker who fell out of love with the world.”

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“It feels both trivializing and audacious to treat the political radicalization and marriage breakup of Jean-Luc Godard as something verging on a buoyant comedy, but that’s what Michel Hazanavicius has done in Redoubtable. Returning to the well of cinema for inspiration after the deadly detour into modern European conflict with The Search, the man behind The Artist takes a knowing if rather breezy approach to the major turning point in a brilliant, and still active, artist’s life. Although the film manages some disarming insights into the man’s complex makeup and difficult behavior, a service enhanced by Louis Garrel’s very good lead performance, serious cinephiles will likely reject it as glib and disrespectful, while more mainstream viewers could be amused but not that interested.”

Sam C. Mac (Slant)
“With The Artist, his Oscar-winning homage to silent cinema, Hazanavicius had a whole era of filmic touchstones he was drawing inspiration from—albeit badly. Redoubtable narrows that frame of reference to just the most basic signifiers of Godard’s late-1960s aesthetic: primary colors, avant-grade sound sync, ironic voiceover in relation to on-screen action, etc. And it uses this arsenal for the seeming purpose of lampooning its fictionalized caricature. The film plays like an extended trolling session: When Godard voices his objection to gratuitous film nudity, Hazanavicius cuts abruptly to a domestic scene of the man and his wife, Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), in the nude, with the oblivious JLG brushing his teeth while haughtily lecturing her.”

Nikola Grozdanovic (The Playlist)
“Up until the third act, before things take a more somber turn and their marriage becomes too rocky, Redoubtable overflows with colorful and humorous scenes. Impassioned debates at student forums where we see Godard hilariously lose control of the room, or cascading arguments in one particularly stuffy road-trip to Paris, propel the film with a lilting and jolly vibe that can be quite infectious if you’re not immune to poking a bit of fun at legendary artists.”

Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
“All these touches are cleverly managed: sometimes funny, sometimes tiresome in an authentic way. Hazanavicius showed himself to be a master of pastiche, after all in his Oscar-winning silent movie, The Artist. But couldn’t Hazanavicius do without the quasi-Godard flavourings? How about making a Godard film entirely without them? It sometimes looks as if Hazanavicius is trying to clone a Godard film in a more commercially accessible remastered style, like Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris. And the jokey pastiche, however lovingly intended, inevitably comes at the expense of passion, and it declines to take seriously the issue of Godard’s inner life and subject of marriage and love.”

Jonathan Romney (Screen Daily)
“It’s a dazzlingly executed, hugely enjoyable act of stylistic homage, but also the poignant story of a dysfunctional marriage and an insightful recreation of a critical and contradiction-ridden period of modern French history. Only hardcore Godardians – a pretty unforgiving bunch – would reject it out of hand.”

Geoffrey Macnab (Independent)
“It’s a case of Carry On Jean-Luc Godard in this very lightweight comic film dramatising key moments in the life of the sacred monster of French New Wave cinema. Hazanavicius won Oscars for The Artist but Redoubtable is unlikely to repeat the feat. It’s a witty but determinedly superficial affair that rarely rises above the level of pastiche. As a director himself, Godard always knew how to provoke and surprise audiences. He infuriated them as much as he delighted him but he was never bland. The same, sadly, can’t be said for Hazanavicius.”

Unattributed (The Wrap)
“Hazanavicius worked in sketch TV before breaking into mainstream filmmaking, and with its episodic structure and absurdist set-ups, Redoubtable often feels like a product of that training. Like Mel Brooks before him, Hazanavicius makes loving genre riffs that painstakingly recreate the aesthetics of the films they parody. In its funniest moments, Redoubtable works in unison between star Garrel’s approximation of Godard’s unique speaking patterns and Hazanavicius’ approximations of the older director’s shooting style. He’ll often have his leads break the fourth wall, calling attention to the whole ridiculous enterprise, or shoot his actors in the nude while they complain — in character as actress and director — that filmmakers always want to strip their actors bare.”