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Is Godard’s New Film Anti-Semitic?

‘Film Socialisme’ reflects French filmmaker’s interest in Jews’ significance

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Goldberg from Film Socialisme.(IMDB)

Richard Brody, who writes about film at the New Yorker and who, quite literally, wrote the book on Jean-Luc Godard, explained to me one afternoon upon returning from the Metropolitan Museum of Art that watching a Godard movie without understanding Godard is like watching a 3-D movie without the 3-D glasses.

Film Socialisme, Godard’s latest, features staccato-paced montages of short scenes and vivid images supplemented, at times, by cryptic three-word subtitles written in what Godard coined “Navajo English.” Though challenging to follow—I saw two people walk out of the theater halfway through—the film is undeniably beautiful, if at times jarringly abrupt to take in. But any recent consideration of Godard’s work, particularly within the American Jewish community, has been compounded by questions of the filmmaker’s alleged anti-Semitic tendencies. Film Socialisme was met with a similar distrustful suspicion, especially when it was learned that there was a Jewish character named Goldberg (which turns out to be only half-true!) and lines about Jews inventing Hollywood. So: Is Godard’s new film anti-Semitic? Well, it’s complicated. (Is it anti-Zionist? Er, yes.)

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott suggested that the first section of the three-part film could have been titled “Film Socialisme of Fools,” which is, Scott explains, a take on “socialism of fools,” itself “an old term for the anti-Semitism that in Mr. Godard’s case seems more like a vice than a full-blown prejudice.” Brody argued that while in Film Socialisme, Godard “mentions Jews on several occasions and in ways that are substantial and, to say the least, non-trivial,” for the most part the larger discussion of Godard’s attitude toward Jews “has been conducted sensationalistically and superficially, which is unfortunate, because Jewish themes have been important, even central, to Godard’s films for almost thirty years.”

Brody explained the filmmaker’s obsession with the history of the Holocaust in the modern world: “He sees it as the breaking point in history,” Brody told me gravely, “a black mark in humanity and art from which humanity and art have yet to recover, and might never recover.” Yet Godard’s parallel obsession with the significance of Jewry in the world shines through in Film Socialisme, and, as Brody pointed out, there’s no other ethnic group that gets the same kind of attention in the film. The references to Jews, however, in the fast-moving, highly visual film, are ultimately not many.

“This is an incredibly complex work,” Brody added, clearly in awe, “and even if he’s expressing his own prejudices, he’s providing ways to escape from them.” The answer, according to Brody, “is to see the film and think about it.”

That sentiment, that the film’s power is in its contemplative spark, is echoed by David Phelps, who compiled an enormously thorough guide to it. Phelps spoke to me about his interpretation of the film, emphasizing a line near the end—”poor thing, they’ve had their names imposed on them”—and insisting that to do that to Godard, or to the film, is antithetical to the film’s purpose.

Those who want to find anti-Semitism in Film Socialisme must be prepared to do the legwork. For example, according to Phelps, nearly all the quotes used in the Palestine sequence are from a Jewish thinker or text: “Scholem, Rosenzweig (and the Derrida allusion), Jakobson, Genesis, Song of Songs, Colpet,” he wrote in an email. The scene with a French quote from Genesis shows an image of a sheep followed by a clip from his 1967 film, Weekend, in which people run through a field of sheep. The accompanying audio is Joan Baez singing a Pete Seeger song in German, which was apparently translated by a well-known German-Jewish songwriter. “That’s what, three seconds of the film where he has that song on?” Phelps argues, impassioned. “If you want to say Godard is anti-Semitic, you have to deal with that much information.”

However, both critics acknowledge the very real anti-Zionist elements of the film (“I think that’s a question Godard wants us to grapple with,” Phelps told me), and perhaps in acknowledgement of the expected, and encouraged, cultural backlash, the final shot of the film is a black screen with white text reading, “no comment.”

“It’s a magnificent work of art, but at the same time, he has a way of saying something without saying something,” Brody explained. “That he has no comment doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t comment.”

On a Mediterranean Cruise Ship Steered by a Godardian Crew [NYT]
‘Film Socialisme’: Humanism and Paranoia [The Front Row]
‘Film Socialisme’ Annotated [Museum of the Moving Image]
Is Jean-Luc Godard an Anti-Semite? [Jewish Journal]

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Mark Horowitz says:

Anyone who reads Richard Brody’s marvelous biography of Godard will know the answer to the question: Is JLG an anti-Semite. He is. Unquestionably. An anti-Semite. The book provides countless examples of Godard’s perverse and morbid take on Jews — not just Israel, but Jews in general, throughout history. His anti-Semitism goes back to the beginning of his career. Truffaut broke with him, in part, because of it. His crazy comment on Jews are scattered through the book, and when you string them all together, they add up to classic, pathological anti-Semitism. So let’s not be coy about it. The guy has a problem with Jews. Whether we should care is another question. I know Richard Brody feels it’s part of a larger portrait of an unquestionably great genius. Like Wagner. Brody prefers a more nuanced verdict, but he still provides an amazing amount of horrifying material nevertheless. Read his book and try to believe otherwise.

I liked Breathless, I liked Vivre sa Vie, I’ve probably seen one or two other of his films, and he was a clever iconoclast, like the other New Wavers. But that coolness masks superficiality. He lacks the emotional depth of Truffaut, his contemporary, or the profundity of Renoir, his predecessor, or the skill in suspense of Chabrol, to name a few Frenchmen. By comparison with other art house icons, he’s nothing. He’s undeserving of being mentioned in the same breath as Bergman, or Kurosawa, or De Sica, or Bunuel. For all I know, they have issues with Jews as well.

But the expiration date on the avant-garde techniques and ideas that are his staple is long, long past, just like the passe Euro radicalism that celebrates the Palestinians at the expense of the Israelis and political change through violence. Funny how minds just get trapped in the past; he’s still aping Jean Genet.

This reminds me of a Tom Stoppard line from Artist Descending a Staircase:

“I very much enjoyed my years in that child’s garden of easy victories known as the avant-garde, but I am now engaged in the infinitely more difficult task of painting what the eye sees.”

jacob arnon says:

Godard teaches us that it is not that easy to separate anti-Zionism from antisemitism.

In his case, which do you think came first.

His case is very important because young (and not only young) filmakers will see his films and learn from him that it’s somehow wrong or shameful to be Jewish and will strive for what I call invisibility. That is they will not wish to be Jewish in public. They may explain it and excuse it in various way but what it comes down to is a fear of being associated with the undesirable “other.”

We are very good at coming up with all sorts of excuses: we may say that they hate only communist Jews, or only capitalist Jews or only religious Jews or only Zionists Jews, etc.

This game has been going on for decades if not centuries. This is what zionists have always fought against since Theodore Herzl and George Eliot (who was herself not Jewish).

jacob arnon says:

Richard Brody and AO Scott need to explore antisemitism in European cinema a lot more diligently then they have done thus far.

There seems to be a taboo subject right now and a number of Jewish American actors and directors have reacted to it in predictable way by embracing that Jew hatred in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Think of Woody Allen and think also of the bit actor: Wallace Shawn.

H ROSEN says:

Godard’s films always induced a coma in me…I cannot think of any
of his films which held my attention for more than 1/2 an hour.
I recently saw “Midnight in Paris ” and found it typical of the
crap Woody Allen has been doing the last 15 years.

More importantly it was overtly anti American ans covertly anti semitic.
Owen Wilson’s (a pitiful actor) fiance and parents are pictured as
rich money infested Americans who cannot compare to the aesthically adroit and sensitive Parisians:replete with cartoon versions of Hemingway and other Americans in 1920s Paris. Read below ,and though unsaid, one can see the rich Jews Woody Allen has been portraying all these years.
Woody has been too long in Europe and his humor and his talent have
vanished.

Spinoza says:

As a student in Paris I attended a conference at which Godard spoke (I believe it was 2003). His hatred of Israel and bizarre obsession with Jews was clear. At one point he seemed to justify suicide bombings (Human Rights Watch had recently condemned suicide bombings as a war crime, Godard brought this up to disagree with it).

One other thing I learned in Paris: NO ONE in France sees Godard’s movies. No one has cared since the sixties. The people who came to see him speak that evening were either film students like me looking to see a famous director in person or neo-Maoist types (the conference was on cinema and politics).

I sometimes think that Godard’s only admirers these days are American Jewish intellectuals. Just another way in which today’s literary Jews increasingly resemble cuckold fetishists.

jacon.arnon says:

“I sometimes think that Godard’s only admirers these days are American Jewish intellectuals. Just another way in which today’s literary Jews increasingly resemble cuckold fetishists.”

Funny, Spinoza, I like this.

I also think that some “literary” Jews think that they can only be taken seriously if the ostentatiously reject Judaism and what better way to do so then to admire an “antisemite.”

This isn’t a new phenomenon but yuo would think that they would wise up by now.

Very funny, Spinoza. When I was a teenager, I spent a weekend at a Loire Valley chateau owned by the aristocratic family in whose possession it had been for centuries. I brought along my copy of Proust, which I thought was perfect for the occasion, and their response was, “Wow. Ambitious. Don’t you find it kind of difficult to read?” And that was the end of the conversation. Proust! A youthful affectation of mine, I suppose.

RACHEL B says:

Is “Mein Kampf” anti-semitic?

Beatrix says:

Although I’m not that familiar with Goddard, this was one of the most interesting discussions I’ve seen on Tablet. You should put these people on the payroll.

Doug says:

Since anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have been convincingly shown to be the same thing, to acknowledge that Goddard is anti-Zionist and then to even question whether he is anti-Semitic is pointless. If he is anti-Zionist then he must be anti-Semitic.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/22/idUS79018764020110722

>> About Godard’s infamously controversial attitudes toward “les juifs,” he tells the Guardian: “My answer to the person who will never ask me the right question about [my new movie ] is that the image I really like is the one about Palestine, the trapeze artists.” (This is a metaphor for the beauty that will be born the day Jews and Arabs learn to work together, opines the leftwing Gibbons of the leftwing Guardian.)

>> Gibbons quotes ultra-trendy French ”philosophe” Bernard Henri-Lévy — BHL — who has worked with Godard on a number of uncompleted and aborted projects about “the Jewish being,” as saying of Godard that he is a man “trying to cure himself of his anti-Semitism.” In his flic ”Film Socialisme,” Godard again puts his hand in the wasps’ nest — writes Gibbons — with such lines as: “How strange that Hollywood should be invented by the Jews.”

Godard, of course, denies in the Guardian interview that he is anti-Semtiic or an antisemite. But my own take on Godard’s attitude towards Jews is that he merely mirrors the entire history of Christendom. Every page of the the so-called “New” Testament has poisoned Europe and America with its centuries-old trumped-up charges of “the Jews killed Jesus” nonsense.

Every Christian who believes that Jesus is the only way to find God is a Scriptural anti-Semite, if truth be told. Godard is just a stupid man who inherited his anti-Semitism from centuries of the European disease.

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Is Godard’s New Film Anti-Semitic?

‘Film Socialisme’ reflects French filmmaker’s interest in Jews’ significance

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