Film Review: Godard Mon Amour

Michel Hazanavicius gets pretty Hazana-vicious with his period-piece portrait of the not-so-young Godard in love.
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Michel Hazanavicius is a light entertainer at heart, adept at deploying the tonally delicate arts of parody and pastiche to send up specific modes of world cinema like spy films and silent movies. Ever since his big win at the Oscars with The Artist, though, Hazanavicius has opted to turn his skill set toward subject matter that seems increasingly incommensurate with his sensibilities: first, with his plangent remake of Fred Zinnemann’s unsentimental rubble film The Search, and now by setting his sights on the private life of Nouvelle Vague pioneer Jean-Luc Godard. As it turns out, Godard Mon Amour is far from a love letter.

Godard Mon Amour is divided into chapters, except that in this case each of them parodies the title of a particular Godard film. Throughout the movie, Hazanavicius apes examples of Godard’s ever-evolving style, like the sudden switch to negative film stock, as in Alphaville, or the black-and-white montage of female body parts lifted straight from A Woman is a Woman, to name only two of the most obvious. It’s all very clever, of course, and one day might make an excellent spot-the-reference drinking game for New Wave enthusiasts. But the problem remains: For Godard, these stylistic quirks were part and parcel of his relentless search for new ways to construct cinematic narratives, whereas Hazanavicius sees them only as occasions for that (in)sincerest form of flattery: imitation.

The film opens on the set of Godard’s 1967 film La Chinoise, introducing us to the director (Louis Garrel) and actress Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin) via complementary voiceovers in which each describes their burgeoning interest in the other. Ostensibly based on Wiazemsky’s 2015 novel One Year Later, Godard Mon Amour purports to give us the inside dope on their relationship, but it never gets very far beyond the realm of pure cliché: Godard is yet another portrait of the genius artist as self-absorbed asshole. He’s also the older man in thrall to the beauty and sincerity of a younger woman, thus given to controlling behavior and sexual jealousy in a manner reminiscent of a Woody Allen film, an association that’s only reinforced by several not-so-sly jokes about people preferring Godard’s “earlier, funnier” films.

Anne, on the other hand, is mostly relegated to playing the passive victim, even though these events are allegedly based on her own story. It’s a disastrous decision that’s rendered even more so by the scene where Hazanavicius indulges in an ill-judged juxtaposition between an argument that leaves Anne in tears and footage from Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc of a weeping Falconetti. Hazanavicius tries desperately to transcend the clichés he knows he’s purveying when, near the end of the film, he has Godard lament the fact that their arguments force them to act like a couple of complete stereotypes. But you can’t convert platitudes into piercing insights just by openly acknowledging them as such—no more than you can turn coal into diamonds by pressing really hard. What’s worse, the tonal crimes of this climactic episode are further compounded by Hazanavicius’s decision to tastefully slather it over with the perfect piece of classical music to suit the mood.

Nor is Hazanavicius on firmer ground when it comes to the equally tumultuous historical backdrop of this rocky relationship: the fabled events of “May ’68” that were recently documented in João Moreira Salles’ more nuanced (if equally disillusioned) In the Intense Now. Hazanavicius painstakingly recreates the student rallies and street demonstrations that dominated the period, but fails to capture their inner significance for Godard, beyond the running gag that has his glasses being repeatedly smashed in the commotion.

Whatever you may think about his Dziga Vertov Group period, Godard’s attempts at making truly revolutionary cinema receive short shrift here, serving as little more than fodder for gags. There’s a rather demagogic assertion that crops up several times over the course of the film: Cinema must be, above all else, entertainment fit for the common man. It’s difficult not to see this as Hazanavicius’ faux-populist mission statement. But Godard Mon Amour isn’t entertainment for the masses, it’s closer to character assassination.

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