Who can penetrate the enigma of Jean-Luc Godard (Louis Garrel)? Not Michel Hazanavicius (director of the 2011 Oscar-winning “The Artist”), whose “Godard Mon Amour” reduces the New Wave pioneer and ceaseless cinema provocateur to a pretentious ass — a boor and bore.
Based on the 2015 autobiographical novel “Un an après” by Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), the film relates her troubled relationship with Godard, whom she married in 1967, when he was 36 and she was barely 20. An actress who played the lead in Robert Bresson’s masterpiece “Au Hasard Balthazar” (1966), she was smitten by Godard’s genius and he by her youth, and both were seduced by the Maoism then trendy among radical French students and academics.
Together they made “La Chinoise” (1967), in which Wiazemsky portrays a member of a Parisian student revolutionary cell. Hazanavicius begins his film as Godard’s playful, polemical pastiche of dialectical discussion and mock agit-prop theatrics opens with a thud at the Avignon Film Festival. It is rejected by everyone, including the Chinese. Dismayed, Godard draws energy from the anti-government demonstrations then breaking out in the streets in 1968. He joins the young protesters at the barricades, filming them, tossing an occasional cobblestone, running from police, and breaking his glasses — the latter a recurring joke that Hazanavicius never tires of.
During one of these protests a fan recognizes Godard and asks him, “When are you going to make funny movies again?” Perhaps Hazanavicius is confusing Godard with Woody Allen in “Stardust Memories” (1980). In fact, “Godard Mon Amour” is very much like a Woody Allen film, with Godard embodying Allen’s negative traits of pretentiousness, neurosis, and misogyny without the redeeming virtue of humor.
Nonetheless, Wiazemsky (sheepishly portrayed by Martin) falls hard for Godard as he takes her to movies like Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928), pontificating to her about cinema and politics even as he fumbles his way to understanding the relationship between the two himself.
As he grows more radical, he alienates not just his old fans but the student revolutionaries he wants to emulate and who hold him in contempt. He takes out his frustrations on the stubbornly passive Wiazemsky, chastising her for her conformity and her bourgeois desire to have fun. “You want to live like people in the movies,” he tells her in a labored attempt by Hazanavicius at self-referential irony. “Impossible!” “I married Godard the director,” she counters, “not the political commissar!”
Hazanavicius, meanwhile, decorates the film with faux-Godardian (or faux-Truffautian) touches, such as chapter headings with specious and sometimes incoherent references to Godard films (e.g., “6. Pierrot the Contempt”), jump-cuts, direct addresses to the camera, and headline-like intertitles underscoring the film’s portentous banalities. Finally, when Wiazemsky confronts Godard with the failure of their marriage and he responds with obtuse recriminations, she says “I’m talking about us! You’re talking about cinema!” By then it’s clear that Hazanavicius doesn’t have much to say about either.
GODARD MON AMOUR
Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius; based on Anne Wiazemsky’s novel “Un an après.” Starring Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin . At Kendall Square, West Newton. 107 minutes. R (graphic nudity, sexuality, and language). In French, with subtitles.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.