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Jan 29, 2007

Is Jean-Luc Godard Korean ?

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Is Godard French ? Of course not : listen to his accent ; no need to understand what he says to know that he is Swiss. If he were French, he would be far more obnoxious.

Some French are nevertheless reluctant to give him up. In his dictionary of filmmakers, Jean Tulard, a Napoléon scholar who has extended his personal empire to world cinema, describes Jean-Luc Godard as a « director of Swiss origin » ; could Mr. Tulard mean that he is not actually Swiss ? That he is stateless and therefore available for annexion by France ?

This is quite possible, as Jean Tulard appears in favour of enforcing a strong French imperial policy in the field of cinema. In the next edition of his dictionary, Jean-Luc Godard may thus become a « French director of Swiss origin » : in Mr. Tulard’s similar reference book on actors, Michel Simon has already completed his naturalization process and is a « French actor of Swiss origin ». Expect the « Swiss origin » to be dropped soon.

More surprisingly, the British too seem ready to concede Godard to France, may be because they are not among his more enthusiastic admirers. According to the British Film Institute site, Jean-Luc Godard is the son of a « wealthy Swiss family » -a shocking revelation that there may exist poor Swiss families- but « born in France ». Could it be that the key to the director’s at times disconcerting work should be found in the conjunction of these two inconsistent facts : Swiss wealth and French birth ? Or that France should be held accountable for Godard’s films, as his career would certainly have developed in more traditional fashion, were he born on the right side of the Swiss-French border ?

Let us be fair : Godard is as Swiss as cuckoo clocks, numbered accounts, the Pope’s guards and, unfortunately, Roger Federer -at least until he wins at Roland Garros-.

Meanwhile, Godard’s films are as French as Champagne wine or Roquefort cheese, though sometimes less sparkling and tasty. Why ? :

-because Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg amble up Champs-Elysées and not Genève main street ; because Jean-Paul Belmondo again and Anna Karina drive around Côte d’Azur and not Lac Léman,

-because, despite a commandable taste for Nordic-type actresses (see above, or Maruschka Detmers in « Prénom Carmen »), the casts of Godard’s films are mostly French, from Jean-Paul Belmondo to Alain Delon, Isabelle Huppert to Bruno Putzulu...

-because France has invested so much into Godard’s movie that the country deserves, as a tribute to and a return on its investment, that they be labelled French : Gallic audiences dozed, screamed, applauded, booed, walked out of Godard’s films more than any other ones ; French critics and media controvery, the Cannes film festival -with Godard at the forefront of the « coup » to cancel it in 1968- forced them on the world ; French journalists coined the expression « un mauvais Godard raté », « a bad, failed Godard film », to pay homage to the panache of unsuccessful experiments ; Godard’s films has been financed mainly by French money. For over forty years, willy-nilly, France has been the director’s number one sponsor : the unofficial Godard Foundation,

-because Godard’s films have become to epitomize French cinema at its -make your pick- worst, best, most irritating or hilarious,

-because French arrogance would not have it otherwise,

-because Jean Tulard would not have it otherwise : in another product of his many reference books, the « Guide des Films », « A bout de souffle », « Pierrot le Fou », « Le Mépris » too, despite Moravia, Capri Island, Jack Palance, Fritz Lang -Bardot prevails- are nothing but French. With respect to more recent fare, situation is a bit hazier : « Sauve qui peut la vie » and « Eloge de l’amour » are French-Swiss, but France comes first : at worst, the films may claim dual French-Swiss citizenship.

But nothing is ever settled with Godard : it now appears that the more serious challenge to the director’s Swiss citizenship comes from unexpected quarters : could it be that Jean-Luc Godard is Korean ?

(Initially posted on JUne 27, 2006)

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