On the surface, Michel Hazanavicius’s decision to adapt a chapter in Jean-Luc Godard’s love life as a romantic comedy makes a certain amount of sense given the early New Wave crowd’s love of classic Hollywood screwball comedies, but Hazanavicius invariably falls into the trap that even modern American directors can’t avoid when tackling romantic comedey: the impulse to be cute. Though casting Louis Garrel, with fake receding hair and thick-rimmed glasses, as JLG was a minor stroke of genius, choosing Stacy Martin to play his first wife, Anne Wiazemsky, was a little too on the nose. There’s no doubt that this is a fictionalized version of their relationship, but the sight of JLG acting all super sophisticated and intellectual while Wiazemsky purrs and wrinkles her nose is only funny one time.
In particular, women should be offended by this portrayal since Wiazemsky was an actress (debuting in Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar), filmmaker, and author in her own right, and by making her simply a sex foil for Godard (the scene where he lectures her while she is completely naked will probably be cited as the most “French” thing in the movie) she will likely be remembered by the average person only as that. The movie does attempt a bit of muckraking by exploring Godard’s reported antisemitism, but since that also is played mostly for laughs it doesn’t hit its mark quite as forcefully as it should.
Of course, compared to Hazanavicius’s most famous film, the Oscar winning The Artist, Godard Mon Amour is practically scathing, and eventually the movie does turn serious with some near-violent arguments and an attempted suicide. Also, JLG’s leftist leanings don’t come off well during the student unrest of 1968, and this seems to be a direct lift from Wiazemsky’s memoir of this time. It’s obvious that what prompted her to write such a negative book was JLG’s preternatural condescension, which Hazanavicius interprets in a wide variety of ways. His hatred for Bertolucci is expressed in no uncertain terms here, and seems to have been prompted by praise from his Italian colleague. But, then, Godard is famous for hating his own films as well, or, at least, those he contemplates in hindsight.
It should be noted, however, that there are some funny scenes, and though his over-confidence in his comic capabilities are often obvious, Hazanavicius at least knows how to be entertaining when he’s trying for humor. A long car trip to Cannes with a group of fellow directors becomes an interminable hell of JLG pronouncements. The trip, apparently, was real, though we can assume the dialogue was of Hazanavicius’s invention.
Predictably, JLG himself hates Godard Mon Amour, which could be taken as a recommendation. I’m not sure myself. For one thing, I can’t imagine JLG going to see a modern romantic comedy, even one about himself.
In French. Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Picadilly (03-5367-1144) and Cine Switch Ginza (03-3561-0707).
Godard Mon Amour home page in Japanese.
photo (c) Philippe Aubry, Les Compagnons Du Cinema, La Classe Americaine, Studiocanal, France 3