Review | Godard Mon Amour | 2018
One of the most radical filmmakers of the 20th century gets a strangely conventional and inept biopic in the form of Michel Hazanavicius' Godard Mon Amour (formerly titled Redoutable), a film that seems to both revere and loathe the legendary Nouvelle Vague pioneer without actually understanding him.Godard is on record as calling this film "a stupid, stupid idea," a pull-quote that the marketing team has seized on for the film's American posters. It's the kind of tactic that Godard would have loved once upon a time, but watching Godard Mon Amour, one is inclined to agree with him, and I was left baffled about who the film is for or why it was made.
The film is based on actress Anne Wiazemsky's autobiography, focusing on her romantic relationship with Godard that began during the filming of La Chinoise (1967). This was around the time when Godard was eschewing what he saw as the bourgeois affectations of mainstream cinema in favor of a more revolutionary style to support his Marxist-Leninist politics. Eventually, Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin) and Godard (Louis Garrel) get married, and as the renowned firebrand's discontent with life and cinema (two things that are inexorably linked) continues to grow, his determination to upend the old order begins to put a strain on their relationship. Hazanavicius' Godard is a revolutionary coming to terms with the fact that he is now the old guard, desperately trying to hang on to his relevance but facing a movement that no longer has any use for him.
Or at least that's soul of Garrel's remarkable, eerily spot-on performance. The film itself, however, never allows itself to explore those avenues, instead treating Godard as a goofy, almost Chaplin-eque figure, the Little Tramp playing at Maoism, a wannabe revolutionary out of step with his own time who can't seem to keep his iconic dark glasses from breaking. By the time Godard forms the Dziga Vertov Group with Jean-Pierre Gorin, the film has turned into an all-too-common melodrama (which Godard would certainly dismiss as bourgeois nonsense), with Wiazemsky, a great artist in her own right, playing the utterly cliched long-suffering wife to the difficult genius (a sexist trope brilliantly flipped on its head by Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread).
Hazanavicius has seemingly made an entire career out of emulating the styles of others, from OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (easily his best film), to the Oscar-winning The Artist, Hazanavicius often falls into the trap of recreating outmoded styles without grounding them in their proper artistic context. In OSS 117 it didn't matter so much because the film was an outright lampoon. Yet The Artist, and perhaps even more egregiously in Godard Mon Amour, the filmmaker is simply playing the mimic. The black title cards with bold primary color writing, the non-diagetic sound, the droll, descriptive voice-overs, Hazavavicius deploys them liberally, but they serve no real purpose in the greater narrative. Godard stands naked pontificating on the pointlessness of nudity in film. Garrel turns to the camera to sneer about actors saying any word you put in their mouths. Hazanavicius is using Godard's Brechtian techniques without any of the fire or zeal that made them work in the first place. Godard consistently used such dramatic irony, but never in quite such painfully obvious ways.
Certainly the Godard of this period is not exempt from criticism. The Dziga Vertov Group era is when Godard finally disappeared fully up his own ass, and his misogyny and anti-semitism has been well-documented. But the irreverence of Godard Mon Amour treats him as more of an effete bumbling pseudo-intellectual who doesn't understand the very revolution he's trying to lead. If the film begins with an appealing sense of self-awareness, it soon devolves into self-parody, and eventually into irreverent pablum. It not only does Godard a great disservice, but also doesn't seem to know who its audience is. Fans of Godard will surely hate it, and beyond cinephile crowds he's not exactly a household name. It's a strange and seemingly pointless exercise in self congratulation that turns the romantic travails of two legendary cinema artists into cheap tabloid fodder. The irascible Godard would not be pleased, and in this case, he would be absolutely right.