Godard Mon Amor, alternately released as Redoubtable, has an egregious amount of fun with its subject. It does what humor should do: refusing to negate the emotion of the film and the complexities and pain of the story, but instead making the audience care more deeply and richly about them. Director Michel Hazanavicius, of The Artist fame, deploys all the tools in his referential toybox not only with alacrity but with gorgeous talent.
Louis Garrel and Stacy Martin star, respectively, as the already legendary Godard and his young wife, Anne Wiazemsky. Godard is the director of the wildly unpopular movie Anne features in; she is the teenaged star. Godard has already solidified his place as a celebrity artist in the revolutionary France of the 1960s. But as the student revolution gains momentum and radicalism, the aging Godard—going on forty—is no longer at the forefront and torments himself over it hourly. Anne is our point of view character as Godard publicly and privately alienates all his remaining allies with pretentious (the movie’s word, not mine) monologues about the bourgeois and the workers’ revolution.
Feyishly beautiful, Anne becomes the visual centerpiece for the film, as well as the film’s gaze—and its gaze, mimicking Godard’s cinematic legacy, is obsessive and ogling. The difference is Hazanavicius does all this with a sense of irony, as the camera slowly pans up the length of Martin’s Odalesque-like nude body. Anne is also the focus of Godard’s obsessive jealousy and manipulation, as the spark goes out of their relationship and Anne becomes more and more aware of how badly Godard is capable of treating her.
The movie has a lot of genuine affection—a convincing, humorous, cheerful romance filmed in the capable, sturdy, steady shots that became part of Godard’s signature in projects like Contempt—the patient pivoting of the camera, the exploration of a geometric apartment as a beautiful actor moves through it. The jittery jump cuts and unmotivated chromatic changes. The leading pair’s affection is the concentrated thread that makes the dissolution of the marriage so full of pain and conviction: the movie summons up rich adoration and then slowly burns it to ash. As Anne says in one of her through-the-fourth-wall voiceovers, “I loved him as far as I could,” and it doesn’t even come off as cliché.
This is a difficult story to tell just now: a story about a much-older director becoming mutually infatuated with his nineteen-year-old star, a marriage that implodes in the paranoia of an insecure male genius. A dozen #MeToo articles spring to mind. “What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?” asks The Paris Review. It’s difficult to watch the movie out of the context of predatory men, of brilliant male artists who trade on celebrity for sexual power. But Hazanavicius’s narrative wants to be beyond that. It wants to be individualized and unique, toying with the quirks and foibles of a love story all its own.
Part of what prevents Godard Mon Amor from slipping into a #MeToo trend piece, where it certainly doesn’t want to be one, is Anne’s unapologetic agency throughout. She is the one telling the story; the movie is based on the book that the real Anne Wiazemsky wrote about her marriage with Godard. Where vilifying would be an easy and simple thing, there is enough genuine love and maturity in Anne’s narrative to hold her head high. She deals with Garrel’s brilliantly-portrayed Godard with pity and humor, as well as disappointment and heartbreak. With clarity and panache, Anne refuses powerlessness. In a narrative where the easy story to tell is one of domination and regret, Godard Mon Amor treads masterfully around cliffs and pitfalls to deliver a movie that is full of charm and conviction.