I'm not sure that I have such a thing as a list of the filmmakers that I'd be interested in seeing make a biopic of legendary critic, filmmaker, political agitator, and cantankerous asshole Jean-Luc Godard. But I am 100% certain that Michel Hazanavicius would be nowhere remotely near that list if it existed. The one specific thing that Hazanavicius is best at, mounting stylistically exact re-creations of period filmmaking, is the one thing that seems likeliest to go horribly awry in making a movie about a movie director, and for Godard, a filmmaker whose entire career since the moment it began has been dedicated to the principle that cinema must be in a constant state of re-invention, it's an active insult. The good news, if good news it is, is that Godard Mon Amour, which is the Hazanavicius-made Godard biopic that has set me off on this miserable little tangent, is very willing to present itself as an active insult to Godard, so at least it's not an insurmountable mismatch of content and style.

That being said, it still flops around in pretty much exactly the way it sounds like it's going to: Hazanavicius collects a small set of Godard films (the main stylistic touchstones are 1966's Masculin féminin, and the 1967 duo of La Chinoise, and Week End; the films primarily mentioned in the narrative are 1960's Breathless, 1963's Contempt, and La Chinoise) and mimics them with great enthusiasm, along with virtually no insight. The opening credits, cribbing directly from La Chinoise, are a pretty perfect re-creation, but then after that, it's just one long list of the most obvious impressions of what "Godardian" style looks like without actually digging into the guts of Godard's films, the sort of thing a film school student who's only somewhat been paying attention could knock out. And when I myself was a film school student, I co-directed a short film parody of Godard, so I know whereof I speak.

The film that emerges is a truly baffling misfire: the references and jokes are all pitched directly at an audience that has an encyclopedic recall for individual scenes from 50-year-old art movies, but the sense of humor never rises above the most basic sitcom stuff. This was okay - indeed, it was an outright strength - when Hazanavicius was busy making OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio a decade ago: wacky lowbrow comedy works for a spy parody. Here, it does not work much at all, in part because wacky nods to the editing structure of Masculin féminin, by definition, cannot be lowbrow enough to work on the unchallenging register Hazanavicius is aiming for. Though I'll confess that the running joke where Godard (played Louis Garrel, son of Godard-influenced film director Philippe Garrel) keeps breaking his iconic sunglasses and irritably has to replace them kept me moderately amused.

Anyway, the film is a bland, one-note pastiche, and that's what it's best at. It's horribly insubstantial as a biography, cares nothing about the process of filmmaking (less, even, than Hazanavicius's light-as-a-soap-bubble Oscar winner The Artist. Which is a film I'm still terribly fond of, by the way), and its ability to intelligibly critique Godard's shortcoming as a human being and as a filmmaker are fundamentally hobbled by its complete lack of interest in actually engaging with what he was up to. Professionally, the film takes place between the premiere of La Chinoise and the 1969 production of Le Vent d'est, the period of time during which Godard abandoned his formal experiments with genre films and docu-realist youth pictures and buried himself in making politically radical agit-dramas as part of a Maoist filmmaking collective, the Dziga Vertov Group. There's a lot that can be said about this tiny slice of the man's career, whether you want to praise him as a passionate idealist convinced that film could be more, or condemn him as a flailing middle-aged man trying badly to keep young by dabbling in go-nowhere radical politics. But Godard Mon Amour, for all its loving, lingering re-enactments of the May 1968 student protests, has no more interest in those topics than being boggle-eyed at the notion that a film director might give a shit if his films meant something. Much like the highbrow-lowbrow comedy paradox, the result is something that cannot work: a story whose references will only be comprehensible to people with some investment in academic intellectualism, and whose point is to say, "what kind of weirdo wants to be an intellectual?"

The stronger, though infinitely more pedestrian, leg of the film lies in its portrayal of Godard's doomed, unpleasantly domineering marriage to the 20-years-younger Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), star of La Chinoise and other pictures. It's Wiazemsky's memoirs that formed the basis for Hazanavicius's screenplay, which is probably why this is the only part of the film that actually feels like it knows what the hell is going on, though it doesn't do her character much good: the film doesn't do nearly enough to give Wiazemsky any sort of inner life, or a personal history (her grandfather, conservative Catholic intellectual François Mauriac, is mentioned purely as a plot contrivance; her collaborations with Robert Bresson and Pier Paolo Pasolini aren't even glanced at). She's just the wilting innocent weathering the storm of a personally disagreeable genius, there to sadly ask if he's ever going to give up this "activist" stuff to be a normal person.

Still, there's enough there that the thing can at least function as a relationship drama, as it most certainly is not able to function as an exploration of the man, the filmmaker, or the brand Jean-Luc Godard. As far as that goes, it's just a cartoon smudge, with Garrel meekly burying any such thing as a "performance" to the glasses and ridiculous hair that looks more like Gallic Woody Allen than Godard. Which is a comparison one might be able to miss, if not for the script's incessant need to re-hash the "I liked the early, funny ones" bit from Allen's Stardust Memories for its entire length It's not a comparison Godard Mon Amour should dare to invite: the Allen picture is much, much more insightful about the neurotic mind of a self-doubting filmmaker and the unnecessary meanness such a man metes out on the people who love him than anything in this script. Hell, Stardust Memories probably even works better as a commentary on '60s European art films. I'm not sure what Godard Mon Amour works as: a fun spot-the-reference game for people who own every French film in the Criterion collection, maybe, or an excuse for Hazanavicius and cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman to revisit the camerawork, lighting, and color palette of the 1960s, which they did so well in the OSS 117 films, and, in fairness, do very well again here. It doesn't really look specifically like a Godard film, but it doesn't look like it premiered in 2017, either, so that's something. It's kind of the only thing.