The Artist director mines Jean-Luc Godard’s rebel years for Cannes comedy, and ex reckons he’s struck cinematic gold
Michael Hazanavicius has adapted a memoir by Godard’s ex-wife Anne Wiazemsky; she, having seen the film, says he and Louis Garrel, who plays the filmmaker, have made ‘this odious figure moving and funny’
Jean-Luc Godard is one of cinema’s towering giants, a revolutionary who turned the rules of film-making on their head in the 1960s.
But the Swiss-born director who kick-started the French New Wave with Breathless also had a genius for making enemies, as his ex-wife, the novelist Anne Wiazemsky, soon discovered.
Now with the kind of cheek that Godard himself was once notorious, Michel Hazanavicius, the Oscar-winning director of The Artist, has filmed the most politically radical period of the director’s life ... as a comedy.
Redoutable will be premiered at the Cannes film festival on Sunday.
But Wiazemsky – who was at first reluctant to allow him to adapt her memoir of their time together, Un an apres (One year later) – believes Hazanavicius has struck cinematic gold.
“I saw the film and I would love to see it again because I am both the best and the worst audience,” said Wiazemsky, who met Godard when she was 19 and he 36.
She said Hazanavicius and actor Louis Garrel, who plays Godard, “have succeeded in making this odious figure making grotesque speeches moving and funny.”
Set against the backdrop of the May 1968 student protests, strikes and street demonstrations that almost toppled then French president Charles de Gaulle, it shows their marriage falling apart as Godard becomes gripped by revolutionary fever.
As talk of revolt gripped France, he broke with the “system” and renounced all his previous films, including classics such as Pierrot le fou and Contempt.
Hazanavicius “understood something very profound about Jean-Luc”, Wiazemsky insisted. “And out of tragedy, he made a comedy.
“He understood the crisis he was going through – the consequences of which none of us, least of all me, foresaw.”
The couple fell in love in 1966 and married during the shooting of Godard’s 1967 film La Chinoise, in which Wiazemsky played a member of a Maoist revolutionary cell.
Her grandfather, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Francois Mauriac, was not amused.
But the events of May 1968, in which Godard became a major player, bringing the Cannes film festival to a halt with a strike, overwhelmed them.
“The further it went, the more our paths diverged,” Wiazemsky said. “I, who came from a university background, went increasingly towards the cinema. And he, who came from cinema, went further and further away from it.”
“I think the film catches him very well, and makes him funny,” the novelist, who is now 70, said.
She was taken aback by Garrel – who, ironically, she held in her arms as a baby – and his portrayal of Godard.
“I was really hypnotised by the amazing resemblance between him and Jean-Luc. He even talks like him. I don’t know how he did it – it’s the work of a real actor,” she added.
Wiazemsky starred in two of his father Philippe Garrel’s early films, and she still remembers Godard’s dramatic reaction to seeing his debut movie, Marie pour memoire (Mary for Memory) in 1968.
“There is Garrel now,” Godard declared. “I no longer have to make movies.”
Garrel’s latest film, L’Amant d’un jour (The Lover of a Single Day), is also showing at Cannes this year in the Directors’ Fortnight.
“Lots of loose ends are tying up in Cannes in a very romanesque way,” Wiazemsky joked.
As for watching herself on the big screen – played by the Franco-British actress Stacy Martin of Nymphomaniac fame – Wiazemsky was a little less wowed.
“I was a lot less innocent than the character in the film. I had already made films. I came from that world. The girl in the film is younger and more naive,” she said.
The big question, however, on everyone’s lips is how the famously cankerous and reclusive Godard will take Redoubtable. So far there has been no reaction from his Swiss lair.
“I haven’t heard anything from him in a long time,” Wiazemsky said. “I know that to be on the safe side Hazanavicius has not sent him a DVD ... .”