Based on French actress Anne Wiazemsky’s autobiography, Redoubtable is an intimate biopic of a very specific period in Jean-Luc Godard’s life. Following his overwhelming success as the leader of French New Wave cinema with films such as Breathless, Godard became a revolutionary and decided to completely change direction with his films. He also fell in love with and married Wiazemsky.
We sat down at a roundtable with Academy Award winning director Michel Hazanavicius to discuss the difficulty of making a film about such an iconic and respected director.
What drove you to make a film about Jean-Luc Godard?
The book did really, I had no will to make a movie about him. I have a very relaxed relationship with Godard, I don’t adore him, I don’t hate him, I respect him but have a very classical relationship to his cinema. I think his films from the ‘60s were very, very good but after that I don’t really follow him. There was no reason for me to make a film about him, but then thanks to the book I discovered this love story. I thought it was very original and I felt I could tell that story in a fun way.
Redoubtable has quite an ironic tone. Is Wiazemsky’s book very much the same?
No, not really, but I felt that the character is funny, and sometimes she says that Jean-Luc was really funny. You can feel that these years were happy years for him, so I thought I’d make a film that is fun in order to have a more genuine flavour of that period.
Was Wiazemsky involved in the film at all?
Not really, she refused to give the rights of her book to many directors, and when I first called her she said that she didn’t want a movie made. Just before I hung up I said “That’s a shame, because I thought it was really funny” and she said “Are you sure? Nobody told me they thought it was funny”. So then she realised I wasn’t on the same line as the other directors and that I wanted to make a comedy, so we finally met and after five minutes she said yes. She didn’t want to see the scripts, she told me to just do my job and when the film was finished to show her the movie. Then if there were any problems we’d find a solution around the credits for it, so that was it. She didn’t want to interfere with the process, and when she finally saw it she was very moved. She gave me the best compliment which was “You made a comedy out of a tragedy” and that she really recognised the character of Godard.
Did you put a little bit of yourself into the story?
Yes, Bérénice (Bejo) think it’s a self-portrait, not really the relationship side of it, but the way that a director can doubt his work and wonder what he should do. I was touched by the story of Jean-Luc’s La Chinoise, thinking that he was doing something really great and realising that people didn’t really care, and that’s exactly what happened to me with The Search.
What I found most interesting was that you didn’t put Godard on a pedestal which some other filmmakers would’ve done. Do you know what he thinks of the film?
When we went to Cannes, some critics were upset with me because the film was really a kind of blasphemy for them, so I guess some of them called him trying to get a quote and he didn’t say anything. He said once that he thought it was a stupid idea, but that was before I actually met him. I think every normal person would say that if someone said “We’re going to make a film about your life”. You’d say it was a stupid idea and that there was nothing interesting, and that could be seen as a very humble answer that he gave, or maybe just mean?
Godard’s films of that period have a very distinctive look, and you did a great job of recreating that feel. Was that an important thing to get right?
It was really a continuity of what I did with OSS 117 and The Artist; I want the audience to see the cinema within the movie. It was very exciting with The Artist because silent cinema was such an original form, but here with the French New Wave and Godard himself it was very free. All these things have been done afterwards by advertising and TV anyway, so now it’s not that original. I tried not to recreate but to revisit it, and to put it in a way that I could tell the story in a classical way.
What are your own views on commercial cinema versus revolutionary cinema?
I think there’s plenty of room for many, many cinemas. I’m not exclusive, I think if you want experimental cinema then you really need commercial cinema, because cinema needs money. But the commercial cinema couldn’t live by itself because it always needs new directors and new actors, so I think both need to live together.
There’s a fair amount of nudity within the film, do you have any particular views on nudity in cinema?
When I see a film as a member of the audience, I usually think “I don’t understand what this brings to the film”. I know that people make love or whatever you want to call it, so I don’t need to see it. I thought for this film, to get Godard and the story from an intimate point of view that I would need it. The bed for a couple is very important, so this is a recurring place within the film. Nudity being very graphic was also a way of recreating the flavour of the late ‘60s.
Also, the scene in which the couple talk about nudity within films while being naked I thought was really funny, and it was one I had in my mind for 20 years or so.
Winning an Academy Award for The Artist was obviously an incredible thing, but is there a dark side to it?
There are always side effects to important things like that, but if I had to choose I would do it again. I think maybe it changes you subconsciously, but I also realised it changes the way that people look at you and your work. Some of them love you too much, some hate you, so sometimes I prefer to be seen as a normal director and like nothing ever happened. What people don’t understand is that I didn’t create the success of The Artist, I was an observer and a witness of that, I wasn’t responsible for its success.
What’s next for you?
I’m not a revolutionary, I’m much more classical. I love comedies, so I hope it will be a comedy. I’ve been sent a very original comedy script, so I’m hoping that it will be my next movie.
Redoubtable is in UK cinemas from 11th May.