Godard Oscar reignites charges of anti-Semitism

12th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Legendary French director Jean-Luc Godard prepared to be honored Saturday with a special Oscar for his lifetime cinematic achievements, even as his critics revived old charges of anti-Semitism.

The French New Wave filmmaker, who made his feature directorial debut 50 years ago with his groundbreaking "Breathless" will be honored in absentia at a dinner banquet hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which celebrates Hollywood's best at the Oscar ceremonies held here each year.

The 79-year-old master of modern cinema is receiving the honorary Oscar for his "extraordinary contributions to the art of the motion picture," and in recognition of a career that has spanned some 70 films.

But the award has also reignited long-simmering allegations that Godard, an avowed anti-Zionist and longtime defender of Palestinian rights, is an anti-Semite.

One well-known Godard film, the 1976 documentary "Here and There," depicts the parallel lives of a French family and a Palestinian one, and contains a controversial film sequence juxtaposing images of Adolf Hitler and Golda Meir, Israel's first female prime minister and known as its "Iron Lady."

Over the years, Godard has also given numerous interviews critical of the Israeli government and the influence of Jews in Hollywood.

The controversy has raged throughout Jewish media in recent weeks, with the popular "Jewish Journal" asking in a headline: "Is Jean-Luc Godard an Anti-Semite?"

The debate was picked up by the mainstream press, with The New York Times publishing an article titled "An Honorary Oscar Revives a Controversy," while the Los Angeles Times asked: "Jean-Luc Godard and his honorary Oscar: does it matter if he's an anti-Semite?"

The academy addressed the issue in a statement, saying it was "aware" of allegations Godard had made anti-Semitic statements.

"We are also aware of detailed rebuttals to that charge. Anti-Semitism is of course deplorable, but the academy has not found the accusations against Mr Godard persuasive," it added.

Godard will not be present to collect the award in person. After months of uncertainty over whether or not he would attend, the director gave word last month that he would be a no-show, without elaborating.

The reclusive filmmaker, whose impact on cinema can be seen in the work of a Who's Who of Hollywood directors from Woody Allen to Quentin Tarantino, lives in Switzerland and has rarely been seen in public in recent years.

In May, he also failed to appear at the Cannes Film Festival when it showed his most recent work, "Film Socialisme."

The academy also plans to present an honorary award to Francis Ford Coppola, director of "The Godfather" and "The Godfather, Part II."

Also to be honored are British film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow and veteran actor Eli Wallach, whose credits include "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

Filmgoers seemed oblivious to the raging anti-Semitism debate this week at the American Film Institute, where Godard's "Film Socialisme" was being screened, and said they thought the honor was well-deserved.

"My first viewing of 'Breathless' was mesmerizing," said Julio Perez, editor and filmmaker.

"I try to watch it as almost a cinematic pilgrimage, once every year."

He called Godard "daring and radical."

"His ideas are liberating and exciting to filmmakers or film lovers who are interested in feeling and experiencing and thinking new things. It's a great inspiration, a great freedom when you see a Godard film," Perez added.

Equally effusive was Kirk Stricker, a Los Angeles yoga teacher and longtime Godard fan.

"Godard is a brilliant filmmaker and he has always something interesting to say and interesting to put on screen," he said.

"His aesthetic, his political point of view are appealing to me, as is his use of technology, the beautiful images that he captures, his blending of words and images, images and music -- and in fact, the way that he sometimes blends images and silence."

Saturday's dinner ceremony will pay tribute to Godard through film clips and commentary by his admirers.

The academy will accept the Oscar on his behalf, and arrange for the statuette to be delivered to the filmmaker in Switzerland.

© 2010 AFP

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