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The director who ignored Hollywood

The Academy wants to give Jean-Luc Godard an Oscar for his life's work. Trouble is, they can't find him

Guy Adams
Friday 27 August 2010 00:00 BST

Hollywood is waiting for Godard. Jean-Luc Godard, the legendary French film director, controversialist, and self-styled intellectual who – to the bafflement of the US media (but the delight of his loyal fans) – has responded to news that he is to receive an honorary Oscar with the weariest of Gallic shrugs.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Wednesday, with huge fanfare, that the 79-year-old auteur, whose career spans in excess of half a century, is one of four lofty individuals who will this year be given a special gong for "extraordinary distinction" and "exceptional contributions" to cinema.

That's the plan, at least. But after two days of frantic effort, the Academy has failed to track down Godard to inform him of his good fortune. Letters, faxes and calls have all gone unanswered, and they now suspect that the reclusive film-maker may be deliberately ignoring them.

"We've been attempting to reach him since 7 o'clock on Tuesday evening and we have as yet had no confirmation," Bruce Davis, the Academy's executive director, told Hollywood Reporter. "We have tried by telephone, by fax, and by emails to various friends and associates. We have even sent him a formal letter by FedEx."

Godard, a sometime Communist, has always been dismissive of the US in general – and particularly Hollywood. Though his film Breathless became a global hit and helped establish him as the leading talent behind the so-called "new-wave" of French film-making of the 1960s, he consistently rejected advances from major studios and made almost all of his roughly 70 films on small budgets in his native tongue.

Today, he does not have an agent to handle inquiries from organisations like the Academy, so the process of contacting him sometimes resembles a French farce. His phone number is a closely guarded secret, and he is impossible to reach via email, since he still does almost all of his work on a typewriter and refuses to use the internet as a matter of principle.

Since Godard also hates long plane journeys (they prevent him from chain-smoking his beloved Gitanes) fears are growing that he will simply refuse to turn up to November's black-tie dinner at which honorary Oscars are handed out. Only a handful of recipient have ever failed to make it to the event, most famously Audrey Hepburn, who was otherwise engaged in 1993, on account of the fact that she had recently died. The great man does, as it happens, have a track record of snubbing public events. In 2007, he was supposed to have showed up in person to receive the European Film Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award. At the last minute, however, he opted to stay at home, explaining his absence in a somewhat cryptic message.

"I say at the same time 'thank you' and 'no, thank you'," it read. "When someone says I have created a life's work, I have to accept this. But it is my way of criticism not to go there. I don't have the impression that I have made a career. In French, the word also means 'quarry' and in this sense I can accept it." Earlier this year, Godard also cancelled his participation in the last Cannes film festival, where he was supposed to be holding a press conference to explain the meaning of Film Socialisme, his latest movie, which has subtitles in Navajo English and has been described by critics as a 100-minute "assemblage of video images, sounds and text, following a loose narrative and incorporating archival footage that begins on a cruise ship".

He announced that he'd be snubbing that event in a fax to Thierry Frémaux, the Festival's director. "Due to problems the Greeks would be familiar with, I unfortunately cannot be at your disposal in Cannes," it read. "I'd walk to the ends of the earth for the festival... But alas I will not be taking a single step further."

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