October 6, 2010
Is Jean-Luc Godard an anti-Semite?
Jean-Luc Godard to get honorary Oscar, questions of anti-Semitism remain
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“The Academy’s Honorary Awards are presented in recognition of an individual’s extraordinary contributions to the art of the motion picture. The organization intends to bestow an honorary Oscar on M. Godard at its second annual Governors Awards on November 13th.”
After a follow-up request as to the source of the “detailed rebuttals,” an Academy spokeswoman cited a 2009 article in the Canadian magazine Cinema Scope by Bill Krohn, Hollywood correspondent for the influential French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, to which Godard and many of the early New Wave directors contributed as film critics.
Krohn took on Brody’s biography and accused its author of ideological simplification, biographical reductivism, guilt by association, misinterpretations, hurt self-esteem following a snub by Godard and, all in all, of perpetrating “a hatchet job disguised as a celebration of Godard’s genius.”
Krohn’s critique is quite diffuse and short on specifics, but in one concrete instance he illustrates that the same words can be interpreted in different ways.
Although Godard’s exclamation of “filthy Jew” was taken by Braunberger as a deadly insult, Krohn interprets it as affectionate banter between old friends and an allusion to the film “La grande illusion.”
Perhaps a better defense of Godard may be found in some of the filmmaker’s own projects and views, however erratic they may appear.
Given his family background and pro-Palestinian activism, it would not be surprising if Godard were also a Holocaust denier.
But, on the contrary, he is fixated on the murder of6 million, including some 77,000 Jews living in France, and one of his main charges against Hollywood is that Jewish studio heads could have prevented the Shoah by producing a number of anti-Nazi films in the 1930s.
He has labeled repeated accusations that some of his films equate the Palestinian Nakba (defeat in the 1948-49 war) with the Holocaust as “completely idiotic.”
In some of Godard’s enigmatic films, the same movie may contain both negative and positive themes. For instance, in his 2001 picture “Éloge de l’amour” (In Praise of Love), Godard attacks Spielberg in particular, and America in general, for its perceived lack of history and culture.
He also inserts the last testament of a notorious French fascist and anti-Semite, but on the other hand, the movie also deals with the quest to restore Nazi-looted art to the rightful Jewish and other owners.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Godard was preparing an adaptation of Daniel Mendelsohn’s “The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million,” with Israeli filmmaker Oren Moverman.
In an attempt to get additional input on Godard’s character and reputation, this reporter contacted several entertainment industry personalities in Hollywood and abroad.
One was Arthur Cohn, the Swiss film producer and winner of six Oscars, including one for the classic “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” and an ardent Zionist and Jewish activist.
Others were Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and multiple Academy Award winner; noted UCLA film historian Howard Suber; and writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd.
In one form or another, each said that he had no personal knowledge of Godard’s reputed anti-Semitism.
Spielberg is shooting a film in Europe and was not available for comment. However, Marvin Levy, Spielberg’s personal spokesman, responded to a query on how Spielberg had dealt with Godard’s personal attacks on him and his films, particularly “Schindler’s List.”
“I don’t recall anything from Steven at that time or through the years,” Levy responded. “He may have known about Godard’s thoughts on ‘Schindler’s List,’ but I never heard him talk about it. All the acclaim overwhelmed any negatives from anybody. It would have been uncharacteristic of him to get into a confrontation with another filmmaker who didn’t like his film.”
Attempts to reach Godard through the head of his Swiss production company were unsuccessful. This failure will not surprise anyone who has followed the comedic drama of trying to pin down whether Godard will actually attend the Academy’s Governors Awards dinner in November at the Hollywood & Highland Center.
At the same event, producer-director Francis Ford Coppola will receive the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, and, in addition to Godard, actor Eli Wallach and historian-preservationist Kevin Brownlow have been chosen for honorary Oscars.
Despite a flurry of faxes, e-mails and couriered letters, Godard did not respond to the invitation for weeks, until some enterprising British reporters tracked him at his home in the Swiss town of Rolle.
Godard escaped the reporters, but Anne-Marie Mieville, his wife and work partner, said Godard was apparently disappointed that the honor would not be conferred at the main Oscars ceremony next February.
In any case, she said, Godard “is getting too old for this kind of thing. Would you go all that way just for a bit of metal?”
The French newspaper Liberation commented that it might be just as well if Godard stayed home, as his speeches “have become mysterious adventures in the country of language.”
Nevertheless, the Academy remains officially upbeat, though hedging its bets by stating carefully that it “intends to bestow an honorary Oscar on M. Godard.”
Though he may not like to travel, Godard continues to make new films with considerable vigor. His latest, “Socialism,” screened at the New York Film Festival on Sept. 29 and will be shown again on Oct. 8.
Benjamin Ivry, a frequent contributor to the Forward, contributed to this article.
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