Godard Mon Amour is Michel Hazanavicius’s comedic character study of Jean-Luc Godard’s fall from cinema, and ultimately the world.
Recently, an article surfaced in which a quote from legendary film critic, Leonard Maltin was used as the headline. The quote, “If you’ve never seen silent films, or foreign language films, if your education with film begins with ‘Star Wars’ then you’re handicapped,” resonated with me because my film education started with Star Wars. But it didn’t end there. I saw Star Wars in the early 1980’s. I moved on to foreign films and recently, into silent films.
Why is this germane to Michel Hazanavicius’s Godard Mon Amour?
Well, it does qualify as a foreign language film. So, I’ve checked off one of Mr. Maltin’s requisites. It touches on the silent film era, something I’m becoming more familiar with. But, its most important quality is that it will lead me to seek out more of Jean-Luc Godard’s films.
Based on Un an apres, the memoirs of his ex-wife, Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), the Academy Award – winning Hazanavicius taps into the comedy and drama that surrounded Anne and Godard (Louis Garrel) in the late 1960’s. Garrel gives a spirited performance as Godard. He sees the world through an exacting lens while the young Anne is seduced by his world view.
The film is entirely in French, but Hazanavicius’ use of the frame and the subtitles convey the witty dialog between the two. The backdrop for Godard’s transformation as a director in the film is the run up to the 1968 civil unrest, which unseated Charles de Gaulle from his presidency.
The story finds itself in a quagmire between French politics and a love affair, both with Anne and filmmaking; the Godard in the film is more in love with his own ideals than he is in making his movies.
His latest movie, La Chinoise is rejected by his fans. Hazanavicius adroitly uses the premiere as the catalyst, but it is the next morning as reviews are coming in that Godard spirals downward and his politics move to the forefront.
Garrel’s performance is full of bitter charisma and Martin’s performance is all about an austere face, but there’s a gentle personality below the surface. They make for an engaging onscreen couple.
What’s interesting is that the story implores you to abide in his ego where his compatriots in the film love his films, but dismiss his own politics which borders on Maoism. It does create an interesting premise for which his descent into career psychosis begins. The film’s original French name was Le Redoubtable, which is an adjective for humorous and is defined as a formidable person, especially as an opponent. He has several opportunities to debate his peers and when he cannot win, he disengages, but he is a formidable debater.
One thing we rarely get to see in the film are Godard’s eyes as he never takes off his tinted eye glasses. There’s a running gag that the glasses keep getting smashed during the few demonstrations he attended. The fact that he doesn’t take the glasses off is a sign of his celebrity status, but everyone knew who he was.
La Chinoise translates into “The Chinese,” symbolic of his transformation. It ironically serves as double entendre for a kitchen utensil to strain liquids down to a smooth texture, something that represents a filmmaker who strained everything that didn’t measure up to his ideals, including his marriage.
If anything, I am compelled to visit Godard’s work after seeing this film. It’s a fascinating character study that can seem a little bit long in the tooth and doesn’t always work, but the political machinations combined with the romance below the surface check Mr. Maltin’s boxes.
Godard Mon Amour is rated R by the MPAA.