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Redoubtable's Louis Garrel: 'I changed everything: my hair, I put on glasses. I was very focused. I wanted to be a good interpreter of Jean-Luc Godard'

The actor plays Godard in the film 'Redoubtable' made by 'The Artist' director Michel Hazanavicius, a comedy based upon the book, 'Un an après' by Godard’s ex-wife Anne Wiazemsky

Kaleem Aftab
Tuesday 23 May 2017 21:44 BST
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Louis Garrel playing Jean Luc Godard in 'Redoubtable'
Louis Garrel playing Jean Luc Godard in 'Redoubtable'

In world cinema director Jean-Luc Godard is first amongst equals. The French icon revolutionised cinema with his French New Wave movies that brought his art form into the modern era.

At the Cannes Film Festival his status is such that he is treated like he can walk on water. That’s despite the fact that these days Godard refuses to promenade along La Croisette. He didn’t come in 2014 to pick up a prize for Adieu au langage, and in his recent book about being the Artistic Director of Cannes, Thierry Frémaux revealed that Godard turned down the opportunity to be President of the Cannes jury in 2015.

Yet you cannot talk about the history of Cannes without mentioning Godard He has premiered a plethora of great films at the festival. However, his most telling impact came in 1968 when in a show of solidarity with the students and workers protesting on the streets of France he demanded that the festival be cancelled. After there demands were initially refused, they led protests at the festival and on opening night it was announced that the 1968 edition of Cannes would be cancelled.

Actor Garrel (left) and director Michel Hazanavicius (right) attend the 'Redoubtable photocall during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival (Getty Images)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the festival and since the maestro won’t come to Cannes, they have the next best thing. A film about Godard, Redoubtable, made by Michel Hazanavicius.

Hazanavicus made The Artist, which launched at Cannes, before going on to win the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. But he seems to have read the wrong script.

Instead of making a hagiography, he’s made a movie about the Breathless director that seems to be in the spirit of Francois Truffaut’s sentiment that if Godard were ever to make an autobiographical film, a fitting title might be Once a Shit, Always a Shit.

Many of the critics at Cannes baulked. The reviews for Redoubtable have been middling for the comedy based upon the 2015 book, Un an après (One Year Later), by Godard’s ex-wife Anne Wiazemsky. The actress made her debut in Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, after which Godard arranged to meet her, an affair ensued and he cast her in his next film, La Chinoise. The book is a kiss and tale about their difficult relationship and marriage.

The gist of Redoubtable is that Godard became so pretentious around 1968 when he reinvented himself as a political filmmaker with La Chinoise that he neglected all relationships, except of course for the one he had with himself.

Jean-Luc Godard with his now ex-wife Anne Wiazemsky who wrote the book 'Un an après' which the film 'Redoubtable' is based on (Rex)

It’s a movie laced with irony. A pastiche on the life of Godard. And what better way to wink at the audience then casting French heartthrob Louis Garrel as Godard. Garrel’s dad Philippe is a leading light of the French New Wave, a contemporary of Godard, who some would argue makes movies that are just as pretentious as Godard’s.

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While Louis as an actor, and more recently as a director - his first feature Two Friends debuted at Cannes last year - has always chosen films or written scripts that have been inspired by the work of Godard.

The young Garrel came to the world’s attention when he starred in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, set against the backdrop of the May 68 demonstrations and it is an ode to the French New Wave. The Dreamers even includes a scene that re-enacts the famous moment from Godard’s Bande à part in which the protagonists race through the Louvre.

Because of his respect for Godard, Garrel was initially weary of accepting the role. “At the beginning I didn’t want to do it,” says the 33-year-old Parisian. “When Michel told me that he had a project about Godard, I said to myself that it’s impossible. I was too shy. I was too shocked. Why make a movie about Godard?”

Hazanavicius was insistent: “He told me that it was an adaptation of Anne’s book and I became more open about the subject and then he sent me the script and I was angry, because I liked it. Damn!”

Garrel in Bernardo Bertolucci's 'The Dreamers'

Garrel is sitting in front of his computer with the electronic cigarette that he is holding connected to it via the USB key. He puffs and continues, “I liked the comic way that it was done, even if I didn’t agree about everything, but I think it’s a good subject, told about a very specific period of his life. I said OK, lets do it.”

But in poking so much fun at Godard, isn’t the movie being a bit mean, I ask Garrel. This question gets Garrel animated: “If you think Godard makes movies to be loved, or wants to be loved, then you don’t know Godard,” he says. “He would provoke with his films, test the limits, fight all the time and argue. This I know because I know a lot about him. The movie is playing with this idea of Godard. I don’t think it is mean.”

I’ve met Garrel many times and always got on well with him. His love for cinema has always been mixed with a desire to have fun and make a joke and here he’s bringing that side of him to a movie. Knowing this and of his admiration of people that are willing to rebel and go against the flow, it makes perfect sense when Garrel adds that he doesn’t see it as a criticism of Godard.

He is also appearing in 'Ishmael's Ghost' alongside Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg at the Cannes Film Festival

“I see a portrait of something that many people don’t, I see a hero,” states Garrel. “If you want to do a movie about Godard that is kind and gentle, then you are going to be wrong. That will not be funny.”

In Redoubtable Garrel is transformed, his dark think hair hacked away to the receding hair line of the French director, the iconic glasses put on, and he moves around the screen with less haste.

“Maybe it’s the first time that I do mimicry,” before he remembers, “I did it a little bit of mimicry in Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent [when he played Jacques de Bascher], but this is the first time that it’s not me at all. I change everything: my hair, I put on glasses, even physically because I was very stressed making the film. I was very concentrated as wanted to be a good interpreter of Jean-Luc.”

And Garrel manages to capture the essence of Godard. It’s a terrific impersonation. Although I’m surprised when he tells me that he’s never met Godard. I would have thought that Godard and Garrel’s father might have met socially, given that they were contemporaries. But Garrel says Godard never popped over for a cup of tea.

Garrel is full of admiration for Godard. Indeed, he admits he butted head with the Redoubtable director at times, because Hazanavicius is not such a big fan of Godard.

“Michel is a Montagu and I’m a Capulet. But in a film like this, maybe it’s better to have somebody who can contradict you. He’s not taking Godard as religion.”

It’s also the story of a love affair gone wrong, Garrel reminds. He read Wiazemsky’s book and thought it was funny and touching: “The movie is a pop collage of many things. The collective image that people have of Godard of him being too much of an intellectual and a little bit boring and also of his interventions in public life speaking out politically . So I was trying to also be a DJ to try to create our Jean-Luc. This is a character, it’s not a documentary it’s an impression of Jean Luc.”

As for the early middling Cannes reviews, Garrel thinks that when a wider audience sees the film, they will be far kinder, and the film will be celebrated. He says, “My theory is that if you know Godard very well and you are sure about who Godard is then you will enjoy the movie, or if you don’t know Godard at all you can enjoy the movie. But if you know Godard a little bit, but not too much and are not too sure about what you think about this cinema then you can’t enjoy the movie.”

Garrel may just be right. ​

'Redoubtable' is playing in competition at the Cannes Film Festival until 27 May

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