Paris, 1967. Jean-Luc Godard, the maker of "A bout de souffle", "Le Mépris" and "Pierrot le fou", idolized by critics and intellectuals, is shifting from revolutionizing cinema to becoming a revolutionary tout court. Isn't he shooting "La Chinoise", more a political tract in favor of Maoism than an actual movie? His female star is Anne Wiazemsky, writer François Mauriac's granddaughter, sixteen years his junior. Anne and Jean-Luc have been dating since 1966 and they marry this very year. She admires Jean-Luc's originality, intelligence, wit and boldness while he loves Anne's freshness and - admiration of him. But May 1968 puts their marriage to the test. Godard, who is more and more involved in the revolution, indeed becomes less and less available to his young wife, which does not prevent him from acting jealous. It also looks as if the genius is losing his sense of humor.Written by
Non-admirers of Jean-Luc Godard probably won't be bothering to watch this film in the first place, but I'm sure they'd be reasonably satisfied with the hatchet job that author Anne Wiazemsky and director Michel Hazanavicius have done on Godard, since even most of his admirers as a filmmaker and political guru probably already had a pretty bleak estimation of him as a human being.
Being based on a 2015 memoir by Godard's long estranged ex-wife, the late Anne Wiazemsky (1947-2017), the film is inevitably going to be as much about her as him, and its depiction of him even more inevitably from her jaundiced viewpoint. This also unfortunately means that the film concentrates on their time together between their marriage in 1967 and their separation in 1970, when both his gifts as a filmmaker and passion for cinema had recently curdled; although there was still enough of the film nerd in him to claim with a straight face (in probably the film's best scene) the legacy of Jerry Lewis more worthwhile than that of Jean Renoir. (I wonder how Godard took the news - if it ever reached him - of Lewis's later enthusiasm for Reagan and Trump.)
During his previous marriage to Anna Karina he was probably just as difficult a husband but hadn't become the politically doctrinaire bore and boor that Wiazemsky had to deal with (she portrays him as self-centred and neglectful rather than abusive). Godard's admirers at the time and since have tended to excuse the calamitous decline in the quality of his films after 1965 as politically justified, since they saw the unwatchable screeds he was now churning out as the legitimate expression of his commitment to "make films politically" by no longer making them entertaining rather than because he'd simply lost it.
Louis Garrel gives an energetic performance in the lead, but is too tall and good looking (he actually looks more like Jean-Pierre Léaud), fails to capture the nasal voice familiar from Godard's own films, his perennial 5 o'clock shadow has become designer stubble and then a full beard by the time the film ends; and he just isn't as weird and inscrutable as the man himself remains to this day.
Hazanavicius throughout lovingly recreates the look of Godard's early 60's films when he was in his prime, but treats him more as a comical figure like Woody Allen, complete with the running joke lifted from 'Take the Money and Run' in which his glasses keep getting broken and the admirer who like those in 'Stardust Memories' wishes he'd make another "funny film". (Not that Godard's pre-1968 films were all light-hearted bon-bons by any stretch of the imagination. 'Le Petit Soldat' and 'Les Carabiniers', anyone?)
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