In 1968, film director Jean-Luc Godard (Louis Garrel) is a man filled with hope: for starters, he has recently met the new love of his life, Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), a nineteen-year-old student who he has cast in one of his films, and now seems the perfect partner for the thirty-seven-year-old creator of consciousness-raising work. He really does like the students, since they are the ones who are capable of overthrowing the bourgeoisie as he sees it, but maybe he will have to come to terms with the fact that while he is not growing any younger, the students who previously were so enamoured of his cinema may be growing out of their love affair with Godard...
And the Chinese hate his new film Le Chinoise too, his love letter to the Communism of Chairman Mao, which we can now regard as the powerful statesman's excuses for running a totalitarian nation under his tyranny, and far from any kind of ideal society as Godard viewed it. That was the viewpoint of Redoubtable, the biopic of the Nouvelle Vague director which the (still active) man himself described as a "stupid, stupid idea" (they put it on the poster), just how the passing of time, in this case the fifty years since the student riots of '68, casts a different light on what was considered happening and now way back when, and not an especially flattering light at that.
So we could understand why Godard was naïve not to think this brand of Communism was doomed to be damned by history when people just liked to be entertained and buy stuff with the money they loved so much, but the Godard of the film looks ridiculous by sticking to those tenets. With that in mind, director Michel Hazanavicius was deliberately making a comedy out of that era, yet one with a serious intent: no matter how absurd the unrest looks through the lens of his camera, it was something citizens were enormously passionate about whether they agreed with the actions or not, and while we can look back and shake our heads that things had gotten that bad, what of now?
The undercurrent was that every period of history can be recast as ludicrous, especially in those places where huge fuss was created some distance away from the actual locations suffering crippling tragedies, in this period's case the Vietnam War which had energised the left and emboldened them to literally take to the streets. In superb recreations, with what looks like hundreds of extras, Hazanavicius placed Garrel's Godard at the heart of the protests, yet as a celebrity folks are keener to cheerily tell him how much they loved his collaborations with Jean-Paul Belmondo than engage with him politically. The inference is that this praise from his early fans turned him against success and drove him to the rest of his career, obstinately alienating polemical and experimental pieces that purely the most dedicated film buffs would watch to the end.
Or even seek out in the first place. There were enough big laughs in a consciously Woody Allen comedy style to justify Redoubtable's positioning as a humorous work, and much of that was a comedy of manners: bad manners, in the notoriously grumpy Godard's case, as you will be hard pressed not to wince at the way his obsession with being true to his blind faith in a philosophy built on shaky ground drives everyone from him, including Anne. She was important, because while her one-time husband would grab the limelight from her even in this adaptation of her book, she emerged as the actual protagonist (though Martin looked little like the real woman, not even a redhead), for we see Godard through her eyes, initially admiring, then suspicious, then frustrated, then with a kind of contempt for putting her through this turmoil at such an impressionable age. There were jokey commentaries on the clichés of art films, be that actors saying any old rubbish since they question little, to nudity being integral when it's actually an excuse to get off on the sight of naked people. But sincere questions were raised: does art have to be entertaining? If it's entertaining, is it art? Can politics ever be entertaining?
[Thunderbird's Blu-ray captured the bright sixties colours, and has an interview event recorded after a screening as an extra.]