“I’m talking, shut the fuck up!” Michel Hazanavicius is having a Godard moment. But unlike the Nouvelle Vague master, Hazanavicius is only joking as noisy Cannes revelers pass by, briefly disrupting and interrupting our interview.
The French director, whose film The Artist won the Best Picture Oscar and Palme d’Or back in 2013, returned to the Croisette this week with Redoubtable, a stylistic tragicomedy about yet another artist, Jean-Luc Godard. Yet it is not a classic biopic but a time capsule of the inevitable unraveling of his marriage, career and reputation. Based on the book One Year Later by his ex-wife Anne Wiazemsky, we meet the man she — and cinema fans — fell in love with and the man he changed into. Revered by many filmmakers as a visionary and a trailblazer, Godard made some unforgettable works in the Sixties. Then May 1968 happened. Expecting a revolutionary change from the infamous Paris demonstrations, he shunned his old films and embraced a new form of radical filmmaking that led to an artistic downfall.
Played by Louis Garrel, we meet an insufferable man, making it harder with each frame to feel empathy for him. Anne Wiazemsky, his very young wife (played by Stacy Martin, seen in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomania), accepts his public displays of misplaced anger in silence, outbursts that cause scandal at a meeting with students at the Sorbonne or famously stopping the Cannes Film Festival. (Yes, he really did stop the festival from taking place.)
Almost 40 years later, another political revolution is taking place in France; the Croisette is protected like a military fort, yet no one has stopped the festival.
You’ve never met Godard?
MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS: No, never.
Why did you want to adapt the book into a movie?
HAZANAVICIUS: I read the book first and I was very attracted by this beautiful love story in a very allegorical tone and very particular about one of the greatest artists in cinema. I thought it was a beautiful love story, because it’s a mending story, their split is very noble in a way and it’s very allegorical of many things, desperate because he wants to change, and to change, he’s forced to kill the Jean-Luc Godard everyone wants him to be. He has to kill Jean-Luc Godard, to become another one. By killing him, he kills the man that she loves, the man that she knew. So he’s the murderer of her husband. And in a way I think it’s what we do when we split up, because one of us is changing and the other person doesn’t accept that change for many reasons. That can be something like aging; it can be any kind of changes. It’s something that we all know because that happens to a lot of people among us, but it’s also an allegory of Jean-Luc Godard himself. I think that’s how he became the great Jean-Luc Godard, it’s because he killed the one he used to be.
It’s also an artistic crisis for him. In Redoubtable, his movie La Chinoise is a flop. Was that an allegory for your last film, which wasn’t very successful?
HAZANAVICIUS: Yes, I felt it and I played with it, of course, and I think this movie helped me stand back up. When I read the book, there was room for me to put in very intimate scenes that had happened to me, and I could understand. I don’t compare myself with Jean-Luc Godard, but this guy makes a movie and he thinks it’s a good movie and he thinks it’s a revolutionary movie. But the movie is not well received. And it’s not about the audience, it’s about other people and how people understand the movie. So yeah, I felt like I put a lot of myself into the film, but it’s not a self-portrait. The first thing was this very nice love story and I thought there was room for comedy — the kind of comedy I really love are the Italian comedies, comedies with tragic motivations, tragic events. There was also room for visual and cinematographic work.
What’s the starting point to get the comedy out of this real tragedy?
HAZANAVICIUS: The book. A lot of things were very funny in the book. Actually, when I first called Anna Wiazemsky to buy the rights for the movie, she declined. She thought this movie would not do well. And just before she hung up, I told her I think it’s very funny. She said, “What? You think it’s very funny?” And I said, “Yes, I think it’s hilarious, even. Very, very funny.” So we started to talk about this and she accepted to see me, and she finally accepted to sell me the rights because I thought there were a lot of funny things in the books and with this character. For example, when he comes back from the Chinese embassy and he says to her, ‘they said I was a jerk and I didn’t understand anything about the Chinese Revolution and they want o censor the movie.” I think it’s hilarious!
His other films are very funny and you must have fun playing around with the stylistic things in your movie and when you play with the audience’s expectations.
HAZANAVICIUS: The early Godard is very funny and witty and irrelevant and inventive and very free and he for sure didn’t lose his [artistic] freedom. It was very fun for me to play with all of Godard’s motives and try to put them into a more classic movie, because my movie is much more classic and I really tried to respect that character and to tell that story. So yeah, it was very fun and very refreshing for me.
Redoubtable is filled with a lot of references that only people familiar with Godard’s films will grasp…
HAZANAVICIUS: You change Godard to “black-and-white and silent” and you have the question I had for The Artist. I try to respect all audiences. I don’t make a movie for specialists. I say this because I had this kind of question for The Artist. People were wondering if you don’t know about black-and-white and about silent movies, if you’re not a specialist, do you think people will enjoy the movie? And I said, “Yeah, they can enjoy the movie. I don’t know if they will, but they can enjoy the movie.” I think for this one it’s exactly the same. If you don’t know Godard and if you don’t recognize the Godard motives, the experience will be better for you because you will discover something and you will think I’m a genius because I use his idea. But you will discover a very fresh way to tell stories. You don’t have to know what belongs to Godard and what belongs to me. It’s just about enjoying a movie. And also there’s a very simple story and there are some very funny situations. So yeah, you can enjoy the movie.
Godard famously stopped the Cannes Film Festival and funnily enough, this movie is now in competition on Cannes. Was that anywhere in your mind?
HAZANAVICIUS: No, not really. You know, I work in segments. The first segment is to find the right project, what you want to do — this is the most important. Then you have to write the script. Then you have find the money. Then you have to prep, you have to shoot and edit the movie. And then comes Cannes. So the Cannes question came at the very end of the process, the movie was almost finished. So I didn’t aim to go to Cannes when I was shooting. But it’s in the book, it’s one of the highlights of Godard’s career. He stopped the festival in May ’68. But it’s very ironic to come here with this movie, and it’s very funny. When we were selected, it was during the election in France. Marine Le Pen was at the door of the presidency here in France. And there was that Melenchon guy and very radical people everywhere in France. And I had this movie taking place in May ’68 at the Cannes Film Festival, so it was lined up all together. So I made this teaser where one of the characters says during a demonstration, “You’re going to Cannes with all this happening right now in France. It’s so stupid. Only tourists go to Cannes.” And at the end of the teaser, there was the logo of Cannes with the Official Competition sign. It was really funny to do it.