Is Jean-Luc Godard Anti-Semitic?


Thus the question of Godard's anti-semitism has come up again, on the occasion of an "Honorary Award," this Saturday, November 13th in Los Angeles, for the entirety of his work. To begin with, I should say that I do not like this climate of Inquisition that pervades the intellectual and artistic world, both in Europe and in the United States. And I would have preferred not to be compelled to enter, at all, into a battle that seems to concern, as is often the case, the disqualification of works based upon the small-minded expressions, even the alleged outrages, of their author. But since the debate has been launched, since it is apparently making the front page of major American dailies and since we live in a world where soon it may be impossible to pronounce the name of the director of "A Bout de soufflé" ["Breathless"] without adding this question which is, obviously, a dreadful one: "Is Godard anti-semitic?", I have decided to present my account of the matter here.

Not that this account has, in and of itself, any particular authority. But it is characterized by two things I implore those who, starting tomorrow, will protest against the attribution of this award and against the honor thus accorded the controversial filmmaker to consider. It is the testimony of a man of whom the least one can say is that he has never compromised, not with public opinion but with the crime of anti-semitism; that he has never, no never, found excuses or attenuating circumstances for it, and that he has never hesitated, moreover, to recognize its face behind all of its masks and assumed names. And it is, most of all, the account of a writer that the happenstance of life has led to encounter Jean-Luc Godard four times in the last 25 years. In every instance, the occasion was a film project that dealt, precisely, with this question of ways, modern or not, of being Jewish. And the man in question, myself, quite naturally possesses both a singular experience and, inevitably, original elements of reflection concerning the very object of the present quarrel.

A year ago, when Antoine de Baecque's biography came out, I brought up episodes little known to Godard's biographers, in particular to de Baecque. I did so in a detailed text that was published in Le Point, and then here, in the Huffington Post, on April 8th, 2010, and which was initially inspired by a phrase Godard's other biographer, the American Joseph Brody, attributed to me which I sensed was becoming Exhibit #1 in the indictment of what would become the "Godard trial". Had I ever really said that Jean-Luc Godard was "an antisemite trying to cure himself?" If so, on what occasion? In what context? And what does one do when a little phrase you uttered, a word, perhaps just dinner table pleasantries or a joke, turns out to support the most serious accusation there could be? One offers his true feelings. One presents his innermost conviction, carefully weighing his words. That is, thus, what I did in this text, the conclusion of which was that Godard's rapport with the Jewish fact was, certainly, complex, contradictory, and ambiguous; that his support in the early 70s of the most extremist Palestinian points of view was obviously a problem; and that there are, in such private conversations recounted by the writer and film maker Alain Fleischer since then, some disturbing elements. But to use that to peremptorily declare that "Godard is anti-semitic" is not only to take the risk of calling a life's work before a tribunal where, I repeat, it has no place but also, concerning the point that is a problem, the name to give Godard's politics -- or not -- in short, concerning the corpus delicti, it amounts to jumping to conclusions, playing with words one should only use with the greatest of scruple and, in the final analysis, straying completely off the path.

There remained the documents. There remained the "packet of notes and documents" I said, in the text of April 8th, I had "kept over the years", attesting to these moments of my life and of Jean-Luc Godard's (and, where some were concerned, that of Claude Lanzmann as well) that were also the foundation of my analysis and of what I had to say. I limited myself, then, to indicating their existence but did not feel that actually making them public served any purpose. And I did so without much regret because, each of the four times, it was a question of films abandoned that I was not sure (and, moreover, am still not sure) it would have been worthwhile to drag out of the limbo where we had decided, among one another, to let them stay.

Today, I see things differently. Before the developing importance of this affair, before the accumulation of hearsay, opinions, or quotes taken out of context and consequently turned crazy with which men and women I often know and respect make do, before -- why not say so too? -- the invitation I sense, here and there (recently again, from de Baecque, in Rue 89), to stop using half-words and, in order to "definitively exonerate Godard" (or not), to publish the letters, notes, and preparatory documents of these film projects, thus producing the evidence of a case that, up until now, I have said too little or not enough about, I take on the responsibility, yes, after all, of offering all.

Here they are then, these snippets, drafts, these words. Here are these useless, dusty, forgotten letters that were no longer for me and, I imagine, for Godard, any more than the sad memory of endeavors we undertook with enthusiasm but that turned out to be still-born -- and that will, here, for an instant, come to life again and contribute, I hope, to an effort at clarification that must be put off no longer. Each one can form his own open from there on. It is up to everyone to judge, but as I did myself -- with the evidence henceforth at hand, and with probity. Read.

This post is the first in a series. The next installment will be published on 11/14.