During the making of La Chinoise in 1967, the iconic director Jean-Luc Godard found a new muse in Anne Wiazemsky, his seventeen-year-old leading woman. Their affair d’amor continued through the years while Godard shifted away from French New Wave Cinema and began making movies rooted in revolution, politics and Maois. It’s this period of Godard’s life that Oscar winning director Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist ) explores in his new biopic Redoutable, starring Stacy Martin (Nymphomaniac) as Anne and Louis Garrel (The Dreamers, Les Chansons d’amour) as Godard.
Named after a nuclear submarine mission that Godard and Anne compare their bravery to, the film is centred around Wiazemsky’s real chronicles published in 2015, Un An Après. Complete with Godard’s artistic tantrums and his inward battle between his bourgeois privilege and socialist flirting, Hazanavicius paints a visual feast of 60s nostalgia, stylish Godardian tropes and the complexity of love vs egoism against the backdrop of a France in political and cultural protest.
Here,we talk to director Michel Hazanavicius about why the film shouldn’t grind the gears of cinephiles and how he got the all-clear from Anne Wiazemsky to take her life story to the big screen.
Robyn Sian Cusworth: There’s a bit of controversy surrounding the film – was that to be expected?
Michel Hazanavicius: Yes, a little. When I first thought up the project my wife Bérénice said, “They won’t be happy, this will tease them!” But I thought it was fun. I’m not a serious director and although Godard is still alive, he is not the Pope or the President. What I’m saying is not that important really, and I’m not mean. I’d say the film is fun and ridiculous! People who have got so upset about this must live in a wonderful world and have not much else to moan about…
RSC: It is a fun movie but you’re also picking up on some important ideas about being in love and growing apart.
MH: Well, I aimed to make a fun and accessible movie – it’s not nihilist and you do not have to be a massive cinephile to enjoy it. At the same time, I didn’t want to make something superficial. It does build with different stories about love, politics, radicalisation and revolution. Though these things can be a little heavy so I sought to spin them into a bit of a comedy.
RSC: Did you have Anne Wiazemsky’s blessing for the film, and did she have much input in the making of it?
MH: You know, when I first called Anne she was adamant that she wouldn’t sell the rights of her book. She had declined so many offers before mine. We spoke and she persisted but just before I hung up the line, I said, ‘That is too bad, it’s a really funny book.” To which she replied, ‘What do you mean, you think my book is funny?’ She was touched. So, she accepted to meet me in a cafe and I told her that it was a comedy that I wanted to make. She accepted and liked the idea of that kind of movie. After that, she told me not to send the script. She said, “Just do the movie and screen it for me when you are done with it.”
“…there she was, sat at Cannes, watching a portrayal of herself at the same festival five decades after she was there with Godard.”
RSC: So did Anne get to see the movie before she passed away? It’s very much her story, you see her change from a girl to a woman.
MH: Anne saw the film as soon as it was edited and she was very moved by it. She accompanied us at Cannes last year. It was a touching situation as she knew she was sick and there she was, sat at Cannes, watching a portrayal of herself at the same festival five decades after she was there with Godard. We had a very good relationship, and I truly appreciated her. Stacy Martin is really a wonderful actress to portray Anne, and she translated that difficult fluctuation between being in love with somebody and seeing them change before your eyes. In Redoutable there’s two main narratives: Anne’s emancipation and Godard’s radicalisation. So even when Stacy doesn’t speak, you can really feel her watching her man changing into another. It’s her point of view, in not so many words.
RSC: Were there any particular visual references from French New Wave films in particular that formed the locations of the film?
MH: I based most of the aesthetics on Godard’s early films, used many of motifs and mixed them up with new dynamics. The 60s saw an emergence of plastic so there was this new rush of colour as compared to the 50s, there were many more reds, blues and yellows.
“Anne actually made the best public compliment to me, she said, “You made a comedy with a tragedy”, which is exactly what I wanted.”
RSC: Did Godard or the New Wave era have a particular influence on you wanting to become a director? If so, which film in particular?
MH: Of course, Godard is one of the six or eight directors that changed cinema forever. That said, we are not alike. Godard had a very specific trajectory and I’d say I’m much more classical. Godard does not make classical movies, they are creative and innovative. Sometimes it may sound an alarm as they are super experimental. The first Godard movie I saw was Breathless and the best word to describe it would be ‘free’. You really feel that he is a free man in watching this film. I love many of his films still, his 60s work was phenomenal, full of vivre sa vie. All of the Anna Karina films are up there.
RSC: You chose Louis Garrel to portray Godard, which he does so well. It must be strange for someone to see somebody else portraying their younger selves on the screen. Who would you have play you?
MH: [Laughs] Woah, well, you know what, I wouldn’t direct it so I’d trust the director! It would be better if it was a funny actor. Yes, that’s all I ask. I wouldn’t interfere. It is very difficult to see yourself. Of course, I want to answer George Clooney – but maybe not!
Redoutable is in cinemas now.