According to Michel Hazanavicius, Jean-Luc Godard is a pompous ass. In Godard Mon Amour, the Oscar-winning director of The Artist seemingly came not to praise the legendary auteur but to bury him; what should have been an homage ends up being parody, which is perhaps not surprising considering some of Hazanavicius’ previous work (in addition to The Artist, the OSS: 117 films). And if anyone goes looking for a cinematic education in the ways of Godard or New Wave here—or just wants to stoke their excitement about cinema in general—they will leave disappointed and likely a little pissed.
Hazanavicius based Godard Mon Amour on a book by Anne Wiazemsky, Godard’s bride who was nearly 20 years his junior. The story is about their relationship, which is passionate at the opening of the film (“This man … had shaken up my life”) and not so much at the end, with Jean-Luc (Louis Garrel) having been fundamentally changed by the May 1968 protests in France. He believed that no one should be focusing on art while the revolution is going on, and was instrumental in canceling much of the Cannes Film Festival that year, even though a friend of his was to screen his first film there.
Jean-Luc, always insecure, became even more so but increasingly expressed it as venom. And Anne (Stacy Martin, Nymphomaniac: Vol. I and Vol. II) increasingly became his figurative punching bag. He talks down to her and once calls her a “stupid cow.” (The fact that she gives him only a look is nearly as infuriating.) Having decided that breezy films such as Breathless are dead—the better to focus on stories of import, as artists now must—Jean-Luc is a crank to his fans as well, having little patience for their gushing words. When a young woman at a demonstration asks when he’s going to make funny films again and he offers his argument, the woman’s boyfriend points out, “OK, but you make movies, you’re not secretary of state.” For all intents and purposes, Jean-Luc feels otherwise.
Hazanavicius works hard to employ Godard’s penchant for playfulness. But it’s tiresome. After Anne accuses Jean-Luc of “changing the rules” during a game, for example, he then breaks the fourth wall. A debate about the necessity of nudity in films is shot, yes, while both Martin and Garrel are naked. There’s an extended sequence with inverse lighting that’s especially irritating. The only gimmick that garners a smile is real-meaning subtitles underneath the actual dialogue. It takes a second to get it, but it genuinely adds a little depth to a film sorely lacking it.
Jean-Luc’s complete disregard for other people quickly cools Anne’s love. And he’s so hateful that it’s hard to care about anything that happens; you only hope that Anne cuts and runs. His one-time admittance that he doesn’t like himself doesn’t go very far to change your mind. And way too late, one of his friends finally says, “You’re such an asshole!” Throughout, there’s an argument about whether movies should be an escape or if they should reflect the real world. This film does too much of the latter for the usually light-touched Hazanavicius, with the portrayal of the disintegration of the couple’s relationship feeling painfully realistic. Regardless of this veracity, Jean-Luc’s bile keeps you from viewing Godard as sympathetic, which you’d think would be integral considering his name is in the title. As one character says, “I can’t stand the jerk.”
Godard Mon Amour opens Friday at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.