Godard Mon Amour (originally titled Le Redoubtable) is a searing condemnation of the ways in which politics have a tendency to creep into every nook and cranny of life, from artistic endeavors to love affairs to friendships. Given the heightened tensions of our age, it couldn't be more timely or more timeless.
French filmmaker Jean-Luc Gordard (Louis Garrel), one of the guiding lights of the French New Wave, is in an intellectual and spiritual rut. He hopes to turn cinema into a tool of the revolution, but his efforts thus far have been somewhat disastrous: his new film, the Maoist feature La Chinoise, is savaged by critics, by revolutionaries, even by the Chinese embassy in Paris. He is dispirited and disconsolate; not even his lovely new wife, the teenaged Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), can lift his spirits.
Godard has come to believe that cinema, as a whole, is a tool of bourgeois capitalist something-or-other: of oppression, maybe, or else a purveyor of false consciousness. The only way forward for the genius who made Breathless and Pierrot Le Fou is to get more didactic, to use the tools of cinema to bring the revolution in the streets onto the screen, to instruct the people on how to live, entertainment be damned.
This is not an attitude shared by Godard Mon Amour‘s director, Michel Hazanavicius; his best-known work, The Artist, is explicitly about the entertainment value of film and the sadness of those who find themselves unable to bring joy to audiences during changing times. The Godard of Mon Amour would find such sentiment contemptible: "I'm tired of amusing the middle class," he says at one point, futilely attempting to convince his comrades that the cinema should be more political, less fun, less dedicated to soothing the capitalist beast.
But politics is the enemy of art just as surely as empty consumerism and the need to sell tickets are. Hazanavicius is occasionally a bit on the nose with this—as when angry mobs repeatedly end up destroying Godard's spectacles, literally blinkering him; or when we see Godard and Wiazemsky at a screening of Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, in which Wiazemsky's pleas for a politics-free Godard are overlain on the suffering saint's silent face. But his point is sound and his depiction of Godard's descent into someone unpleasant to be around because he can't shut up about revolution is both aggravating and amusing.
Consider the way in which Godard fights for the cancellation of the Cannes film festival in 1968, despite the fact that one of his friends has a film set to debut there. It isn't just that revolutionary politics serves as the literal enemy of artistry—the festival closes because protesters refuse to let films screen—they also serve as a destroyer of friendships. Godard's ranting in a packed automobile about the awfulness of his bourgeois buddies is as pure a statement of the poisonousness of petty politics that I can remember onscreen in recent years.
We all probably have a Godard in our life right now, that guy who can't shut up about politics, who won't stop talking about the latest embarrassment of the administration or the most recent outrage emanating from the liberal media. I have no idea if Godard Mon Amour is sound history; I have no interest in judging Godard's later, Marxist work against his more interesting films during the heyday of la nouvelle vague. What fascinates about Godard Mon Amour, at least what fascinates your humble reviewer, is the way in which it serves as a cinematic depiction of the politicized life, about the corrupting effects of political angst.
By film's end, Godard is trying to make a film by Marxist tenets, opening up the filmmaking process to the whole crew—a rejection of the cult of the auteur, an affirmation of the cult of the masses. He is struggling to balance the needs of art with the needs of his ideology. "You have to choose," one of the crew tells Godard. "Either it's politics, or cinema." He thinks for a moment before deciding.
"OK. I'll go with the majority."
Godard had won the victory over himself. And we were all worse off for it.