Michel Hazanavicius: “Derision does not force you to superficiality”

Fifty years ago in France, student started protests, which would be the largest social movement experienced by the country in contemporary history and profoundly affect the French society. It is often heard “that was before (or after) 68” to make a comment on the way things were done. To commemorate this event, universities and cultural institutions across the country are presenting diverse programs and events that revisit the atmosphere of the ’60s with some exhibitions, lectures and film festivals.

As part of the Film festival Revolution in the Air, Michel Hazanavicius, Double Oscar winner for 2011’s “The Artist”, came to the USA to present his movie “Godard Mon Amour” (Le Redoutable) which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year. The film is based on Anne Wiazemsky’s book (Un an après), ex wife of French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and makes a focus on when he shot La Chinoise. The events of May 1968 shook Godard and it affected their relationship. Louis Garrel plays Godard and Stacy Martin plays Wiazemsky, with a cast including Bérénice Bejo, Micha Lescot, Grégory Gadebois, and Félix Kysyl. This film is both paying homage to Godard and making a portrait of the changing society with its impact on people’s personal life. I’ve been lucky enough to share a moment with Michel Hazanavicius, while he was in New York, who very kindly answered my questions.

What seduced you in this story and why did you want to make this film?

Godard shooting a protest in May 68

It is the combination of several things: at first I did not intend to make a film about Godard but it is the sentimental approach of the book which gives a dynamics to the character, to his existential crisis, to the political context of May 68 with allegorical levels on the revolution, destroying, changing one’s mind, to destroy also the person he was. I found that there were quite deep texts with the possibility of combining tragedy and comedy in a way that I liked with a little transgressive side for the purist cinema lovers.

You are now accompanying him to the US and other countries to meet French and Francophiles. Are the public’s reactions different from the metropolis audience?

For the public I would say that it’s about the same … the expectations are perhaps a little different and what makes the appreciation of a film is the space between the expectations that we find in the movie itself. For the critics in charge of covering French cinema in the United States, Godard is their totem and so some do not like but it’s like that …

American cinema is one of your claimed influences and you have made references or appropriation in your films. Roy Lichtenstein said “The things I have apparently parodied, I actually admire”. Is this the same for you?

It’s funny that he said it like that, I did not know this quote. In general I do not use the word parody precisely because I have admiration and respect so I speak of diversion but it is only a question of vocabulary. When I talk about diversion, I try to put a first degree that allows me to reach a second degree sometimes a third … I like to put several levels of reading but there is never mockery, it’s a game with always tenderness. 

Louis Garrel (Godard) and Stacy Martin (Wiazemsky)

Of all these films, which ones would you have dreamed of directing?

There are many and I still have a lot of trouble with making lists I have very eclectic tastes and I like things that have nothing to do with what I do. I do not even know what influenced me or not it’s a set of things. I like very serious stuff like John Ford, Spielberg, the Cohen brothers, Tarantino … the list is endless! When you see The Deer Hunter it’s impossible not to recognize that it’s a great movie … you do not know when things ultimately influence you or not…

Michel Hazanavicius, Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin at the Oscars for The Artist (2011)

You are part of the very small club of French people awarded by an Oscar. Would you like to make a movie in the USA?

I had a lot of proposals and I would like it a lot. The material of American cinema is already a subject in itself for me and there are fantastic actors … that being said, things take a lot of time here and I would have to find the right project. It must happen naturally, if the price to pay is to move my family here and wait for it to happen, it’s too much for me. My personal life is more important. If it happens it would be great of course …

To come back to Godard my love, it’s a film about cinema and about a director. Is it a way of self-derision towards your own role?

Self-derision but also introspection. There are a lot of serious topics that are treated even if they are treated with a funny tone. What does it mean to make movies, what does it mean to be in the traditional production system? It is a film that I produced myself which is not foreign to the film itself. Derision does not force you to superficiality.

What do you think of the initiative of the team of the film Paris est une feteParis is a party, (which the authors say have inspired Godard among others) who raised funds via a viral video on Facebook?

I think it’s great when people have the courage to make their voice heard without waiting that someone gives them a microphone. Especially if they have something interesting to say! I recently met students and I was surprised because they told me “it’s difficult to get into show business”. I told them that it’s not about getting into it, you have to do your job and if you do it well, your will create a community around you. My first film did not work, so it was complicated … then I did the next ones that worked well. It allows you to learn but you have to do things in the first place. That being said, to make a film, you need a lot of money so it’s not the same as for an author or a painter who can be more autonomous.

programs and events for the 50th anniversary of Mai 68

Godard Mon Amour

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