Blu-ray Review: Godard Mon Amour (2017)

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Responsible for turning a silent black-and-white movie set in 1920s Tinseltown called The Artist –which featured a trained dog and complex dance choreography – into perhaps the unlikeliest Best Picture winner in modern history, Academy Award winning director Michel Hazanavicius returns to the backdrop of cinema once again for his latest effort which zeroes in on one artist in particular.

Less a straightforward biopic than a portrait of French New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Godard as a middle aged man, Godard Mon Amour's success depends upon not only how much you know about the director – who along with his contemporaries helped usher in a whole new style of filmmaking – but his films themselves.

Paying homage to his subject throughout, unlike the way that Hazanavicius was able to consistently weave references to classic cinema into The Artist's narrative (which has become the director's signature), Godard's sequences all too frequently deviate from rather than enhance the film's overall storyline, which is centered on the thirty-seven year old filmmaker’s relationship with his nineteen-year-old wife, Anne Wiazemsky.

While some moments are undoubtedly amusing, far too often the unnatural segues feel like signposting and – by calling too much attention to themselves – feel more like a spoof reminiscent of Hazanavicius's breakthrough, zany box office smash OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. Thus while the experimental Godard Mon Amour will appeal to Godard buffs, chances are it'll be lost on everyone else.

Skipping past his most iconic period helming such New Wave classics as Breathless and A Woman is a Woman (starring first muse and wife Anna Karina), Hazanavicius's film – based on second muse and wife Wiazemsky's novel Un an apr├Ęs – opens in 1967 on the set of Godard's politically charged La Chinoise where the couple fell in love.

A flop in its era (and perhaps a bad omen for the couple's inevitably doomed relationship), the film, which focused on a group of revolutionaries and was loosely based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's book The Possessed, was banned in China and panned in most reviews save for those penned by Godard's friends.

Signalling – along with the now revered Weekend – a major change of pace, tone, and subject in Godard's filmography, Hazanavicius's Mon Amour picks up where La Chinoise left off.

Set in the filmmaker's most controversial period wherein he embraced New Left and Radical Maoist ideology, publicly disowned his earlier work, and – speaking in slogans as his wont – stated that "Godard is dead," Hazanavicius opts to lighten the mood in his adaptation of Wiazemsky's novel.

Knowing that spending more than twenty minutes in the company of the director at his most insufferable would be the cinematic equivalent of a root canal, Hazanavicius keeps things moving, vacillating in tone between mischievous slapstick (as in a recurring bit where Godard keeps breaking his glasses in street protests) to sardonic yet self aware drama.

Yet although understandably it'd be a mistake to play the entire thing straight, by diving in after both the start of their relationship and once the director's style of filmmaking and beliefs became more radicalized, Mon Amour suffers from a lack of a strong foundation or jumping off point into the period of major political unrest in France that immediately follows.

Repeatedly we find ourselves looking at Godard more as a privileged, out-of-touch jerk and less as someone whose life we feel invested in… except for wanting Wiazemsky to get the hell away from him and for Godard to wake up and smell his hypocrisy.

While obviously a film isn't required to have a likable main character, we shouldn’t have to be a film buff to understand our leading man on more than a surface level.

And unfortunately, as hard as it is to connect to Mon Amour's Godard, even though it's her story and point-of-view, it's ten times harder in the case of Wiazemsky because we know so little about her, aside from the fact that she's expected to be the sycophantic supportive wife and mirror him instead of having her own opinions about the world.

Gamely played by Stacy Martin who generates empathy and understanding with a knowing look – particularly when shared with the wife of a couple who used to socialize with the two before it became impossible to share a meal with Godard for fear he might start screaming obscenities at an elderly war veteran – the actress's performance helps bring the film back to Earth as needed.

Also anchoring Godard when possible, versatile actor Louis Garrel – whose breakthrough ironically came in Bernardo Bertolucci's New Wave and Godard inspired, Parisian 1968 set sexy coming-of-age picture The Dreamers – brings the filmmaker to life through a variety of moods from romantic to insecure to argumentative.

Before he became an Academy Award winning filmmaker, Michel Hazanavicius was an art school grad turned TV adman and that training as well as his passion for cinematic homage shines through, not only when he spoofs A Woman is a Woman's famous book title fight scene, for example but also in his commitment to the era, which he captures as if through the lens of a Godard film.

Featuring pops of red, stellar production design, and clever use of montage, the film never fails to compel us on an aesthetic level, even if its script and pacing leave much to be desired as – like a desperately long car ride from Cannes to Paris wherein Godard can't help but insult everyone – Mon Amour's 107 minute running time feels much longer.

With a target audience largely limited to New Wave enthusiasts and Godard aficionados (and even then the latter is likely to be divided in their reaction), although it feels like a missed opportunity to chronicle the artist's life in a more three dimensional manner, Mon Amour is still worth exploring as an ambitious, if ultimately unsuccessful Godardian cinematic experiment.

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