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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Jean-Luc Godard and the academy's honorary Oscar: A true comedy of errors

September 8, 2010 |  4:27 pm

Jean-luc_godard I guess we can all breathe a deep sigh of relief. More than a week after the motion picture academy announced it would give an honorary lifetime achievement award to Jean-Luc Godard, the aging enfant terrible of French cinema managed to respond with a handwritten note, in French of course, saying that--his schedule permitting--he might actually show up later this year to accept the award. To those of us who have followed Godard over the years, it seems the odds of this prickly, often maddeningly iconoclastic Marxist filmmaker actually going anywhere near the tuxedoed pomp and circumstance of an Oscar ceremony--even one that isn't being televised--are about as good as the odds of the academy making Mickey Rourke its master of ceremonies next February.

The best part of the whole Godard affair wasn't the academy's initial inability to get any sort of reaction from the filmmaker, who failed to respond to a flurry of official letters, faxes and e-mails. It was the way the showbiz flap was covered. In America, it was a brief, one-day story. But in England, home of mad-dog tabloid journalism, the Godard non-response inspired a number of sarcastic commentaries as well as a delightful, sleuth-style stakeout piece. The latter story appeared in Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times, which put two crack reporters on the case, standing watch outside Godard's home in the bucolic Swiss village of Rolle, not far from Geneva. (A host of blog posts erroneously described the reporters as being from an Australian paper, perhaps because Murdoch's Sunday Times is now behind a pay wall, so a Google search only turns up the version of the piece that ran in Australia.) 

When Godard finally showed up at his home, he gave the Times reporters the brushoff, only saying, "I got the letter." When asked if he would accept the award, he responded: "Thank you." The enterprising Timesmen didn't give up so easily. They managed to get Godard's longtime companion, Anne-Marie Mieville, to talk a little, as well as his neighbors, one of whom offered up the juicy nugget that Godard borrows vegetables from his landlord to use as props in his films. Another neighbor, a retired geology professor, said that Godard "is on a different level from the rest of us, somewhere between genius and completely round the bend."

It sounds like a perfectly accurate description of a filmmaker who after failing to turn up for another lifetime achievement award, this one from the European Film Academy, sent a message saying: "I don't have the impression I have made a career." Of course, Godard has had an amazing career, but I wouldn't place much hope on seeing him here in L.A. anytime soon, boasting about his latest exploits. When it comes to his honorary Oscar, I'm betting the show will go on without him.

Photo: Jean-Luc Godard at a lecture on film in 2002 in Zurich, Switzerland. Credit: Christof Schuerpf / European Pressphoto Agency 

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