Godard Mon Amour’s already been reviewed by its subject. As Jean-Luc Godard famously noted, it’s a “stupid, stupid idea,” a quote which has been bandied about on all of the film’s marketing. Cutting and full of bitter irony, director Michel Hazanavicius takes a critical view of the famed director’s politics and relationships. Based on the novel Un an après from his second wife Anne Wiazemsky, the film cobbles together some of that book’s arguments against Godard’s personal character, while subsequently sidelining its author in favor of political commentary.
There’s a unique energy to the satire. It seems to be seething with jealousy all the way, an embittered Hazanavicius not at all content with his Academy Awards for the much funnier The Artist. The perspective simply feels wrongheaded, perverting the subject of an ex-wive’s manuscript and forming an anti-political manifesto from its pages? It doesn’t make a lick of sense structurally—trying to find what it wants to achieve at any moment is a big guessing game.
Stylistically Godard Mon Amour falls plainly between Woody Allen and Godard himself. Allen’s influence is abruptly felt: all sorts of primary colors and then the current subtext: his gross inability to separate from the stories that now define him. The jealous Hazanavicius employs much of Godard’s signature style herein: from the uncomfortable longshots (Weekend) to signature scenes of the political film it’s intent on mocking (La Chinoise).
What we can believe is that Godard was an irascible artist. All those stories prove that out; the way he’d treat actors, or even his disbelief in their essential value, is spelled out repeatedly in the film for laughs. Louis Garrel clocks in a petty performance as Godard that’s sometimes funny on account of being self-aware of its own bitterness: “Real actors are dumb. They’re beneath contempt. They cry and laugh on demand, even crawl… I find that grotesque. They aren’t free. If you tell one to say actors are dumb, I’ll bet he’ll do it.”
Paired with an excellent Stacy Martin, they do begin to make an interesting on-screen couple. Their arguments about love and the French revolutions of ’68 show us one side of the artist too committed to his craft to experience life. Martin’s performance is exemplary and had the film focused squarely on her, it could have been full of winning moments. Instead, we mostly get a political satire of the ridiculous Communist director who may have started the Nouvelle Vague movement, where reality takes principle over prescribed tradition, but what was his reality anyway? For now, it is another story of an ex-wife defined only by her husband without any independent qualities as a person.
There’s a good picture that could have been made here. Godard, author of 127 different films, remains a subject at large in our imaginations and ready for documentation on screen. We can hope the next time it’s attempted, there is a better grasp on accuracy and staying within the lines of the facts. There are a few moments of great self-referential comedy surrounded by such mediocrity and seething jealousy, it doesn’t amount to much. Just because it’s a “stupid, stupid idea,” doesn’t mean that it does not need to be said. We’re almost ready to hold men in the industry accountable and someday, when we get all the facts right, someone can make something of considerable weight on the subject.