‘Artist’ Director Michel Hazanavicius on His Return to Cannes With ‘Redoubtable’ About Jean-Luc Godard

Michel Hazanavicus photographed by Francois Berthier
François berthier for Variety

After “The Artist” and “The Search,” French director Michel Hazanavicius is back at the Cannes Film Festival with “Redoubtable,” a comedy-laced romantic film chronicling the tumultuous relationship between iconic French director Jean-Luc Godard and Anne Wiazemsky, his wife from 1967-79, set against the backdrop of May 1968 riots in France.

The film, which toplines Louis Garrel (“Saint Laurent”), Stacy Martin (“Nymphomaniac: Vol. I”), Berenice Bejo (“The Past”) and Gregory Gadebois (“Angel & Tony”), is produced by Hazanavicius’ newly launched Paris-based production banner Les Compagnons du Cinema. StudioCanal will release the movie in France on Sept. 13 while Wild Bunch will be shopping the film in Cannes.

Rolling off a pair of successful spy comedies, “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” and “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies,” Hazanavicius broke through on the international scene with “The Artist,” a crowd-pleasing silent film, shot in black-and-white, about a struggling 1920s Hollywood star. The movie earned Jean Dujardin, the acting prize in Cannes and went on to win five Academy Awards including best film, director and actor (for Dujardin).

Hazanavicius talked with Variety about the genesis of “Redoubtable,” his love of Godard and how the film weaves together elements of both “The Artist” and “OSS: 117.”

“The Artist” and “The Search” were both passion projects. Would you say the same about “Redoubtable”? 

Yes. Of course. But all my films are passion projects…. It all started when I read Anne Wiazemsky’s autobiography “Un an après” and saw the potential to make a film that would have a compelling aesthetic, a Godardian visual style — a touching portrait of Godard that would reveal how complex, irreverent and funny he could be, in spite of the fact he is not a sympathetic character and has never tried to be one. But first of all it’s a great love story. I was very touched when I read it, and immediately thought it could be a great movie.

Godard is played by Louis Garrel, who has a great deal of charisma, like you. Did you project yourself in that fantasized Godard character?

More and more I think films resemble their directors. I sneak into all my films, including “Redoubtable.” I wanted this film to have a universal dimension and not be a plain biopic, which is why the romance holds an important place. And I didn’t want to be blocked by the urge to depict Godard in an ultrarealistic way. I tried to stir some empathy from his character and show him as a pop icon, a pioneer — which he was back then.

The political themes in “Redoubtable” seem to resonate strongly in the current context of French elections.

Of course, the film is set against the backdrop of a revolution, of political turmoil, and we can relate to that today; “Redoubtable” is also about the role of each person within society as well as the role of directors within the film world and beyond; and then there is the love story, which is universal and unusual. What I liked in that romance is the fact that it doesn’t end because he’s fallen in love with another woman but because he’s obsessed with his political and artistic quest.

Did Godard play any advisory role during the development or the shoot?

Not really. I let him know that I was making the film from the first day of preparation, and sent him the script, but didn’t hear back. I also invited him to a screening of the movie ahead of Cannes but he didn’t come. I’m not surprised, and there are no hard feelings on my end. To me, he’s one of the five to eight directors who changed the history of cinema.

 Were you concerned to show the film in Cannes since you aim to market it to a wide audience beyond festivals?

There are no rules. I always try to make popular films. Even in black-and-white and silent. I strongly believe cinema is popular culture. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s life. But in any case I it’s an honor to be in Cannes. My ambition with “Redoubtable” was to make a film that would be aesthetically pleasing, charming and touching. I’ve always been against the idea of dividing films between festival titles and popular movies. I think you can make films that are both.

Would you say “Redoubtable” is similar to “The Artist” and “OSS: 117”?

Yes, in the visual style and brand of humor there are similarities. “Redoubtable” is filled with references that only people who know Godard’s films will grasp, but it is also very accessible for anyone, even if you never heard about Godard. It’s a strong love story with wonderful actors.

 You had a couple projects set up in the U.S. following “The Search.” Are they abandoned? 

American projects tend to take a long time to materialize, and I’m not a very pushy person, so it’s difficult to get these projects off the ground. But I would love to direct an American movie!

What you didn’t know about Michel Hazanavicius

AGE: 50 BIRTHPLACE: Paris BROTHER ACT: His older brother, Serge, has appeared in two of his films, including “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” IMPRESSIVE RIVALS: His competitors for the best director Oscar he won in 2011 were Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick and Alexander Payne

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