Film Review: ‘Godard Mon Amour’ Falls Short of its Subject’s Greatness

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There’s a cruel irony that runs through “Godard Mon Amour“, the latest nostalgia-tinged effort from Michel Hazanavicius. Its titular subject – famed pioneer of the French New Wave Jean Luc Godard – was known for his anti-establishment, inventive style of filmmaking. The name Godard is, therefore, one of the last names you would associate with a genre as old-fashioned as the biopic. But in perhaps one of the boldest moves of his career, Hazanavicius makes a valiant, if misguided attempt at capturing a key moment in the auteur’s life.

The film is set in late 1960s France, at a time when Godard (played by Louis Garrel) has made a name for himself following the success of films like “Breathless” and “Pierrot le Fou”. But despite his rising status in the film industry, he feels dissatisfied with his established brand of filmmaking. Ever the iconoclast, he decides to eschew frivolous entertainment for more overtly political work. In this vein, he directs his new wife and actress Anne in a film called “La Chinoise”, centered around a group of Maoist revolutionaries. But after a tepid response from his audience, Godard begins to go through an existential crisis. As he fights to shed his bourgeoise image to be a filmmaker of the people, he is forced to question his place in the film industry as well as his struggling marriage.

Part love story, part character study, and part homage, “Godard Mon Amour” is a mixed bag of cinematic tricks. As the title suggests, the overarching narrative involves the marriage between Godard and his beautiful ingenue Anne. Indeed, the film is framed around her experiences with auteur during this crucial period in his life. But while Louis Garrel leaves a strong impression in his quintessential “difficult genius” role, Stacy Martin gets little to do other than intermittently plead her case for independence as an actress. Despite some brief erotic scenes, the romance, therefore, falls flat, as the film is essentially a one-man show for Garrel.

This focus on Godard isn’t inherently problematic, however. The alluring inscrutability of Garrel’s performance is indeed one of the film’s best features. But unfortunately, the character’s narcissism becomes tiresome and Hazanavicius fails to get under his skin. Although Godard is constantly speaking his mind and engages in many arguments about film and society, there are precious few moments of genuine vulnerability or introspection.

In spite of its shortcomings, the film finds considerable success as an enjoyable homage to Godard’s legacy. Copying some of the same inventive techniques used by Godard, Hazanavicius gives the film some visual pizzazz with invigorating tracking shots and trademark scenes where characters break the fourth wall. And coupled with some clever tongue-in-cheek humor, it makes you wonder why Hazanavicius bothered to delve into the more serious-minded political aspects of Godard’s life. Throughout the film, many of Godard’s fans implore him to stick to more light-hearted fare. Based on this uneven attempt at a biopic, perhaps Hazanavicius should have heeded that same advice.

“Godard Mon Amour” opens in select theaters April 20.

GRADE: (★★½)