Arts, Culture & Media

Honorary Oscar for Godard

Jean-Luc Godard, the father of New Wave cinema, hasn't had hit for decades. But the French director is still stirring up controversy. Godard is getting an Oscar tomorrow from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But he won't be there to accept his lifetime achievement award. And some American critics say he shouldn't get the award at all. They say Godard harbors anti-Semitic opinions, which are evident in some of his later films.

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Godard's 1960 film, �Breathless,� heralded the beginning of cinema's New Wave. In the opening scene, Jean-Paul Belmondo talks to the camera as he sets out for a drive in the French country-side. It's got all the Godard hallmarks. Music comes when you least expect it. Jump cuts move from a closeup of Belmondo's face, to the blur of passing trees, to the road, and back to Belmondo's face. Critics still revere the film for its freshness and innovation, and filmmakers around the world still imitate its casual intensity. But for many French film goers, Jean Luc Godard is yesterday's story.

A man, who's gone to a Paris multiplex for an afternoon matinee, says he's heard of Godard but isn't quite sure who he is. �He's French, isn't he?� he asks.

Another man says he saw Breathless a long time ago, but he didn't like it.

Another man, who's 27, says he loved Godard's early films, but hasn't seen any of his recent ones.

�The last one I really loved was um, um, um, phfft, I forgot the title,� he says. That's how people in France talk about Godard, he says. �They love the old movies but probably don't really care about the recent ones.�

It's what critics in France say, too. Godard's last movie, �Film Socialisme,� was released at this year's Cannes film festival and shown in one movie theatre in Paris. Fabien Bauman, who writes for the film magazine Positif, was one of the many critics who panned Film Socialisme. He says Godard hasn't made a decent movie in at least 20 years.

�He used to direct films who had the real stories and real characters,� he says. �Now his films are mainly essays.� Bauman says there are scenes where you can see people talking but you don't know what they're talking about. �We don't know any more what he tries to tell us,� he says.

The 1974 film, �Here and Elsewhere,� is one of those early �essays.� It's also one of Godard's first films to contain what some people have called an anti-Semitic message. Godard superimposed images of then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir with images of Hitler and compared Israeli policy with that of the Nazis. In one scene, a family watches a TV screen that shows simultaneous images of a soccer game, a map of the Middle East, pictures of Israeli fighter jets and the Israeli flag. It ends with shots of a Palestinian girl standing in a bombed-out building reciting verses from the Koran.

Fabien Beauman, who is Jewish, says Godard's anti-Israel views are mostly ignored in France. Beauman himself says he doesn't think Godard is anti-Jewish.

�In his real life he's never done anything anti-Semitic. It's purely a pose.,� Beauman says. �It's like, you have a friend at high school who makes jokes about black people. They are stupid, of course. But you know he's not such a bad guy, it's just a way to get the attention of the girls, for instance. And for Godard, even though he's 80, it's no more than that.�

Beauman has this advice for Americans unhappy about the filmmaker's award: give Godard a lifetime achievement Oscar, go watch his films and don't listen to anything he says.

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