Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. France/Myanmar, 2017. Les Compagnons du Cinéma, La Classe Américaine, France 3 Cinema, StudioCanal, Forever Group, Canal+, Cine+, France Televisions, Region Ile-de-France. Screenplay by Michel Hazanavicius, based on the autobiography Un An Apres by Anne Wiazemsky. Cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman. Produced by Florence Gastaud, Michel Hazanavicius, Riad Sattouf. Production Design by Christian Marti. Costume Design by Sabrina Riccardi. Film Editing by Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius. Cannes Film Festival 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Jean-Luc Godard has already changed the world of film, having kick-started the French New Wave with Breathless and enjoyed massive success with audiences and critics, but by 1967 he wants something new. His film Le Chinoise is an attempt to head in a new direction, a film that speaks more directly to his Maoist beliefs and is revolutionary in more ways than just playing with cinema’s narrative conventions. It also provides him with a new focus in his personal life, as the film’s star Anne Wiazemsky, herself only recently discovered in Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar and the granddaughter of famous poet François Mauriac, captures his heart and it isn’t long before they shack up and get married. Accompanying him to film festivals and political marches, including witnessing the uprisings of May 1968, Wiazemsky comes to understand that what she thought was a mercurial angel of integrity and conviction is actually in possession of the same clay feet as any man, addicted to his own bourgeois comforts (he wants to support a worker’s strike but also doesn’t understand why there can’t be gas in his car) and motivated as much by a desire to be thought of as young and hip as he is by any kind of noble calling to change the world. Based on Wiazemsky’s own memoir of her short time with Godard, this film by Michel Hazanavicius is not a hard-hitting look at the man behind the myth, but a sympathetic and enjoyable caprice that has a delicious time poking fun at one of the country’s intellectual giants without encouraging any hatred towards his foibles. Filmed in the style of Godard’s own films (at least the early, pre-Dziga Vertov bright and beautitful ones), it also boasts an impressive star performance by Louis Garrel in the lead, whose Godard is irascible, attractive and immensely frustrating (the upbraiding he gets from Berenice Bejo, whose few moments are a highlight, on a car ride from the Riviera to Paris, nails it beautifully). Garrel brings it all to the screen with all the charisma of a star and the technical perfection (right down to Godard’s manner of speaking) of an exceptional actor, while Stacy Martin is subtle and commanding as Wiazemsky, benefiting greatly from such terrific chemistry with her co-star that you almost forget that she bears absolutely no resemblance to the real woman (including, by my estimation, a shockingly poor recreation of her hairstyle).