Le Redoutable

Taking the 'God' Out of Godard

October 18, 2017By Heidi EllisonFilm
Louis Garrel as Jean-Luc Godard in Le Redoutable.

The title of the film Le Redoutable comes from a radio play Jean-Luc Godard (played by Louis Garrel) listens to every morning in his kitchen. He repeats its catchphrase in a voice dripping with radiophonic drama from time to time during the film: “Ainsi va la vie à bord du Redoutable” (“That’s the way it goes on the Redoutable”). Redoutable, by the way, is the name of a French nuclear submarine.

In any case, it’s a great title for the movie, since Godard, who was strongly influenced by American B-movies, is a redoubtable figure himself. He is known to be a rather unpleasant man in real life – he even made his old friend and fellow director Agnès Varda cry in her recent film Visages Villages – and Le Redoutable is not going to improve his reputation as a human being. 

Directed by Michel Hazanavicius of The Artist fame, the movie is based on a novel (Un An Après) by one of Godard’s former wives, the actress Anne Wiazemsky (who died a couple of weeks after the film came out), played by Stacy Martin. No biopic, it limits itself to the time the couple was together before and after the upheaval of May 1968, a difficult period in Godard’s life following the critical failure of his film La Chinoise. 

Godard, a big fan of Mao at the time, is portrayed as intransigent and doctrinaire. During the course of the movie, he alienates just about everyone around him, from his comrades in the revolution to his pretty young wife (20 years his junior), the granddaughter of writer François Mauriac.  

To add a little spice to the downbeat story of the end of a relationship against a backdrop of politics, violence and demonstrations, Hazanavicius throws in such cute (and out-of-place) touches as quotations from Mao graffitied onto the walls as the characters walk past, oblivious to the commentary written on the stones. 

While the French reviewers generally appreciated the movie, many complained that it made this god of French cinema look like a clown, but as the friend I saw it with remarked, those moments of comic relief were the best thing about it. The events of May ’68 are also treated as something of a joke. We left the cinema nonplussed and unmoved.

The look of the film reminded me of the stylish bold colors in Godard’s 1963 Le Mépris (Contempt).

By the end of the movie, we haven’t learned much about Godard except that he was famous and obnoxious, but we already knew that. We are only glad that Wiazemsky’s character, a sort of blank slate throughout most of the film, finally gets fed up with her domineering husband and leaves him. Perplexed but not too bothered, he gets in the last word: Ainsi va la vie à bord du Redoutable.”

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