Why does Redoutable exist? Godard has always held sway over French cinematic culture – and for good reason – but he’d no doubt be disgusted by Michel Hazanavicius’s film if he ever bothered to watch it. He’d find it bourgeois. He’d find it reductive. But he’ll never watch it. Because why does it even exist?
The galling fact about Redoutable, the thing that makes it a relative disappointment, is that it’s not a complete stinker. Hazanavicius came from a career of lightweight comedies – somehow winning an Academy award for one – and, after The Search, his disastrous attempt at an “important” film, he has returned to his territory. Following Godard’s crucial period in 1967, when he rejected traditional narrative in favour of something “revolutionary”, he’s cast Louis Garrel as the young director, and Stacy Martin as Anne Wiazemsky, a 19-year-old actress whom he promptly married.
There’s lots of pastiche of Godard’s work, focusing on his early technicolour material: visual gags, meta humour, and lots and lots of cerebral squabbling. The man’s painted as gifted but whiny, which might be accurate – that so many people found him infuriating is certainly true. And the debate over whether his later work is superior, or whether he disappeared up his own arse, has been going on for centuries. But the question remains: why? Why make such a traditional film about a director who was anything but?
Godard would spit at the notion that an account of the personal life of a filmmaker could prove to be anything but insubstantial. And while insubstantial isn’t the worst quality for a film to have, it does make it that much harder to remember its merits. Garrel might have been good at capturing the dissonant sense that the director was the most and least interesting person in the room. There might have been some inspired moments, where Hazanavicius demonstrates a decent capability to use the medium in a playful way. But these hardly matter. Because there’s only question on this critic’s mind, one that takes all prominence, and that is: why? Why? WHY?