Cannes films taunt selfish, insufferable men from Paris and New York
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The Cannes Film Festival explores male egocentrism and neuroticism with films about a dysfunctional New York family (“The Meyerowitz Stories”) and the love life and radical politics of film legend Jean-Luc Godard (“Redoubtable”).
The Cannes Film Festival has been trying for years to lure Jean-Luc Godard into the Palme d’Or jury. Mercifully for French director Michel Hazanavicius, who has dared to make a film about the former enfant terrible of French cinema, Godard has always declined. But the New Wave icon has already passed judgement on Hazanavicius’s “Redoubtable”: Even before its competition screening on Sunday, Godard had naturally dismissed the film as a “stupid, stupid idea”.
“Redoubtable” (“Le Redoutable”, in the original French) is set in the turbulent months around May 1968, shortly after Godard married 20-year-old actress Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin) and starred her in “La Chinoise”. Based on a book by Wiazemsky, it follows a pivotal time in the career of the revered filmmaker, then at the height of his fame. “Breathless”, “Vivre sa vie” and “Pierrot le Fou” are already behind him, and he will never do anything like them again.
Louis Garrel gives a delightful performance as a balding and suitably scornful-looking Godard, who starts off glorious and seductive but ends up a sour, jealous schmo. Charismatic and witty, he is also an insufferable egotist, who professes to embrace dialogue but spends most of his time manterrupting and mansplaining. Nothing is ever quite Maoist enough for him, and people he disagrees with are alienated bourgeois reactionaries who, unlike him, are not conscious of their inherent state of alienation.
The film shows how Wiazemsky fell out of love with the filmmaker she once idolised, but is really about how he fell out of love with everything and everyone else (including the films that made him famous). It is teeming with references to Godard’s films – particularly his 1963 masterpiece “Contempt”, with its famous opening nude of Brigitte Bardot (Martin is herself in various degrees of nudity through much of the film, something the jealous Godard would never have allowed of Wiazemsky or his previous partner-actress, Anna Karina).
In many ways, “Contempt” was already a sign of things to come, an excoriation of the film industry as a corrupting environment in which crooked producers humiliate filmmakers and screenwriters pimp their wives to assist their careers. “Redoubtable” charts Godard’s definitive rejection of that world, poignantly conveying his self-hatred in the realisation that he is, in fact, a celebrity pretending to be a revolutionary.
Playful, irreverent and full of running gags, Hazanavicius’s film is often very funny – perhaps too often. A pastiche of Godardian imitations, it examines one of cinema’s great innovators without offering anything new. To Godard diehards, it will no doubt seem facile and disrespectful of a unique filmmaker who is alive and kicking (and still filming), and who never abandoned his endeavour to reinvent film.
While Hazanavicius’s Godard comes across as the ultimate pouting, insufferable Parisian intellectual, Sunday’s other competition entry, Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”, rolls out the neurotic, rambling men of vintage New York Jewish comedy. Like “Redoubtable”, Baumbach’s film is broken up into chapters. But despite its long and silly title, it actually works well as a unit.
At the head of the Meyerowitz clan is Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a minor sculptor obsessed with his status in the art world (or lack thereof) and whose incorrigible egocentrism surpasses Godard’s. His youngest son Matthew (Ben Stiller), a successful “personal wealth consultant”, is the recipient of what little affection and approval Harold is capable of giving. This adds to the crippling feeling of inadequacy felt by Matthew’s unsuccessful older brother Danny (Adam Sandler). But it is their sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) who is easily the most neglected of the three siblings, and tellingly the chapter that is devoted to her ends up being dominated by her quarrelling brothers.
“The Meyerowitz Stories” is a fairly conventional but thoroughly enjoyable comedy about a deeply dysfunctional family. It is smartly scripted and superbly acted, making the most of its all-star cast (which includes Emma Thompson and Adam Driver). And while it may not have quite as much churning beneath the surface as some other competition entries, it is not shallow either, touching on issues of parenting, sibling rivalry, sexism and regret in life.
Netflix’s second competition entry this year, after Bong Joon-ho’s gentle monster movie “Okja”, it earned some hearty applause at Sunday’s press screening. Sure enough, the Netflix logo got copiously booed again in the Grand Théâtre Lumière, a consequence of the streaming upstart’s festering dispute with the French film industry. But at least the festival staff pulled the curtain up properly this time.