In 1967, 37-year old Jean-Luc Godard fell in love with his 17-year old actress Anne Wiazemsky whilst making his film La Chinoise. He would later go on to marry her. Redoubtable is a comedy drama – note the refusal to quite embrace the ‘dramedy’ tag – based on Wiazemsky’s book ‘Un an Apres’ which chronicled her time shooting the aforementioned feature with her future husband.
In terms of colour palette and general aesthetic, there is more than a touch of the New Wave titan present. Make no mistake, however, this is Michel Hazavanicius’s film (The Artist, The Players). After all, Redoubtable is certainly no hagiography. Neither is it entirely true and quite a biopic. In fact, it is determinedly elusive to pigeonholing, which feels somehow rather apt for a mercurial talent such as Godard.
We sat down separately with the equally delightful co-lead Stacy Martin (Nymphomaniac, Tale of Tales, High-Rise)and Michel himself to talk through this enterprise and their careers. As the latter told HeyUGuys, the challenge with Redoubtable was to ‘get the balance between reverence and irreverence’.
Sadly, just days before the interview took place, news trickled out that Wiazemsky had passed away at the age of 70 after losing her battle with breast cancer. It is something that we delicately touched upon.
HeyUGuys: Were you a Jean-Luc Godard fan?
Michel Hazanavicius: No, I wouldn’t say ‘fan’. I respect him, of course. I respect him as a director. I know I consider him as an important director, but I am not a huge fan of his movies. I really love and enjoy the movies from the 60s but, of his later work, I don’t really love them. I see him much more as a contemporary artist.
Jean-Luc was never interested in characters. He was interested in cinema and, maybe, actors. Cinema and the language of cinema is very important to him. What I like about his movies in the 60s is that I feel comfortable in the balance between him playing with the language of cinema, freeing himself of everything, and still trying to seduce (the audience) by being funny and ‘light’.
If he’s an inspiration to you, it’s for his singular vision rather than his films?
Yes. How he respected himself as an artist and how he decided to be free for all of his professional life, so that is very inspirational more than the movies themselves.
Did you identify with the Godard depicted in this film and his attitudes towards fans flocking up to him and asking him ‘when are you going to make funny films again?’ Is this how you feel about, say, ‘The Artist’?
Not really The Artist, because nobody wants another black and white silent movie! The ones before – the OSS 117 movies – have become big successes in France. They are now part of the pop culture. People keep asking for a third one all the time. I take it as a compliment and as a love declaration: people love those movies and they want another one. I feel really flattered when they ask me. I’m not bored by that question, so I have absolutely no problem with this request.
I wouldn’t say I feel ‘connected’ with Godard, because it sounds presumptuous. He’s one of the biggest directors ever. He’s one of maybe five directors where there is a ‘before him’ and an ‘after him’. I’m not in that category of directors, but that period, when he had doubt and was questioning himself? This is something that I think a lot of directors go through at one point or another and it’s true that subsequent to a movie I made after The Artist, The Search – which was not a success – I was doubting and really questioning myself.
Do I have to do what people expect me to do? Do I have to make comedies? Do I have to make comedies because they want comedies? Or do I have to make comedies because I love them? Do I have to find my own way? What is my ‘own way’? That’s sceptical, but you don’t know. I put a lot of myself in this story. It is about a director doubting (himself). And I question myself.
Do you have an age where you’d like to retire? Or would you like to keep going until you drop?
(The latter) I’d love to, but who knows? There’s another way to stop: when the market doesn’t want you to make movies anymore. It happens to a lot of us. If everything goes well, I still have 7 or 8 movies (in me).
The choice of movie is the most important part of the filmmaking process because that choice will set the conditions for everything that you do moving forward and you will have to stick by that choice for the rest of your life.
Now, I’m 50. It takes me 2 or 3 years to make a movie, so if everything goes well, I still have maybe 7 or 8 movies to make or something like that, so I try to be very careful with the choices.
The film is based on Anne Wiazemsky’s novel and she has recently passed. Did she see the film – completed or otherwise? Did she have a lot input as a collaborator?
No, she didn’t want to collaborate, actually. She’d declined maybe 4 or 5 offers from other directors, because they wanted to adapt her book and she’d said ‘no’. I called her initially and she didn’t answer. Finally, when she called me back, she said, ‘I don’t think it’s doable. I don’t think we can make a movie of this book’.
Just before I hung up, I said, ‘It’s too bad because your books are so funny’. At these very specific words, she said, ‘you think it’s funny?’. I said, ‘Yeah, it’s really funny. It’s hilarious’. She said, ‘Well, that’s strange. Nobody told me that. I think it’s funny, but nobody told me it’s funny before you’.
Then, she accepted to meet me. Five minutes after we met, she said, ‘okay, I’ll give you the rights. Now I’ve seen you, I trust you and I can see you come from another planet. I like it. You won’t do anything too serious and too pompous’. And she told me, ‘Don’t send me your script. When you finish the movie, you screen it to me and if I don’t like it I won’t put my name on it’.
She saw the movie at the end of the edit. That would have given me the opportunity to change something should I have needed to, but she really loved it. She was really moved and really recognised Godard. She said it was incredible. It was him. She put her name on the movie and gave me the best compliment. She said, ‘You have made a comedy of a tragedy’.
She came to Cannes and she was so happy to come back to Cannes after 35 years, so it was very important for her. She said very nice things about the movie in the press. I am really happy to have had the chance to have met her.
HeyUGuys: You play Godard’s former lover Anne Wiamzesky. Did you collaborate and talk to her in preparation for the role?
Stacy Martin: No. I met her just before the screening in Cannes. I had made a decision quite early on with Michel not to meet her during prep or during shooting, because the film is an interpretation. It is Godard but it is also not. It was very important to state that to the audience, so that they didn’t go in expecting to see Godard. So, because we had this distance, I thought, well I don’t want to recreate Anne. For one, I don’t look like her at all and this isn’t the subject of the film, so how can I play around? It was actually her book that I used, because there was something very playful and tender, so I used that to work around it.
And the recent news of her passing must have affected you all?
Life works in strange ways. Now, looking back and seeing her at Cannes walking the staircase, it (the film) feels even more important. It means even more to us because this is her last work. We didn’t know at the time. She probably didn’t know. No one did. But life presents things sometimes.
What drew you to the project initially?
A few things. One was that it was a comedy because it’s not something that I get offered very often! People think I’m very serious, which I can be, but I think that comedy is very crucial in cinema. Michel’s comedy is very specific. He has his own humour and his own way of making a comedy. It’s not standard comedy.
The whole challenge was that the story was about Godard, but a fictionalised Godard. Where does my role fit into that? On paper, although it’s beautifully written, Godard speaks and speaks and speaks, so where is Anne in this? How do I find my place? How am I going to create this person who is with this man and who loves this man because he’s really charismatic, but she is also her own person and needs to live through that.
You’ve worked with a number of pre-eminent directors. There’s been Lars von Trier, Matteo Garrone and Michel Hazanavicius now too, to name but a few. Have you noticed similarities between them? Or differences?
There all very different, because they’re different artists. Lars von Trier is very different to Ben Wheatley, for example. You see it immediately. Every director spills himself in his films, I think. And that’s something I find really exciting.
What I think they have in common, and one of the reasons why I like working with these directors, is that they all have a vision and they all have choice. If they want to do a film, they want it to look a certain way, they want it to say something in particular, and they have this almost Braveheart moment where they go ‘I want to make this and we’re going to go and do it’. Because this is a very tough job. You’re managing a whole crew and managing producers and financers and at the same time you want everyone to go along with it. I think they have that in common.
Did you watch a lot of Godard’s films in research for this role?
I knew his films, because I started watching them when I moved to London, but I didn’t know his later, more political phase, so that’s something that I did watch before filming. I also watched a lot of Truffaut, because Truffaut has a very specific way of speaking and it’s something a little more realistic than some of the Godard films.
Ultimately, it was also to get into the period, but after a while I stopped watching them because I wanted to make a film by Michel. We weren’t making a Godard film and it was important to us to be aware of it. Also, his style of directing is very different. It’s a comedy and it’s also a collage of situations, so everything is amplified and everything becomes bigger in a very Michel way.
Have you caught the bug to think you might one day go behind the camera and direct?
Yes, I’d definitely like to. I just haven’t found my way to that yet. I really love collaborating with directors at the moment and with acting what is great is that you can do 4 or 5 films a year. It would be crazy, but technically you could do it. As a director, it’s very different. Some people spend 4 or 5 years on a film. And I just don’t think I’m ready.
Redoubtable is in cinemas from 11th May 2018.