In short, a contemplative, contemporary and curious look at…contempt.
Jean-luc Godard is fascinating. I am drawn to his audacity. To deliberately go against whatever…in the medium of film.
One could say he makes essays, products of a critic who may or may not enjoy film. To be honest, I think that Godard is SO in love with film. His affair with film is so flamboyant and thorough that it’s wonderful.
He thrives on its persistence of vision. This is why he does not need to explain himself that great in detail. Everything is there on screen.
So is the case of Contempt, a very frank exploration of what appears to be a total breakdown of marriage because of a misunderstanding.
But it is about cinema. And it is about the Odyssey, though this is probably a red herring. Above all, it is about Brigitte Bardot, who is very sophisticated and an absolute ice queen, though I can’t particularly blame her.
So what is Contempt about?
It seems like an odd choice; Godard to direct a ‘bid budget’ domestic drama about a man and woman, one a screenwriter, one a very attractive female, filmed in Italy, not France, in technicolor and in Cinemascope….
Though things should be clear immediately when you see that Fritz Lang and Jack Palance are in the film, and the credits are read to you, as we watch the actual production going on right before us. Of course, the cinematographer, Raoul Coutard is there to look at us and ‘shoot’ the audience.
Contempt is about Contempt. Exactly what it says on the tin.
A man, a screenwriter (Michel Piccoli), is invited to Italy where an American Producer (Jack Palance) is mounting a rather troubled film production of Fritz Lang’s (yes, THAT Fritz Lang) adaptation of THE ODYSSEY. There seem to be creative differences. Lang’s rushes of the current footage is indicative of a major ART film with a capital film. The producer is NOT pleased, and things are in the dumps when the only shot that pleases him is a naked girl swimming in the water.
The screenwriter is thus given an offer: re-write the script according to the demands of the producer.
The screen-writer and Lang discuss what makes Ulysses tick. The producer is a general asshole and blow-hard (though can you blame him? He’s got a ridiculous looking villa by the sea) And then Bardot appears. She actually appears right at the start, in an openly announced nudie shot, done at the whim of the real-life producers. We see her butt in all its color-tinted glory as Piccoli remarks that EVERY single physical feature on her body is wonderful.
This is sort of a mixed blessing, as it gives the illusion that these two are happy to be with each other. Maybe….
Because before the day is out, the producer openly hits on the writer’s wife. He asks for her to take a ride with him to his villa. Rather naively, the writer urges his wife to take his offer. For whatever reason, she complies, mostly out of CONTEMPT.
Once at the villa, her CONTEMPT is clear on her face. She ignores her husband, thought it’s clear she’s been hating him for a while.
Following this, is the center-piece of the movie: an epic two-way conversation between Bardot and Piccoli, where they engage in a rather piercing argument of wills.
Both toy with each others emotions because of CONTEMPT, and because of this CONTEMPT, nothing gets through.
The whole sequence is quite sedate in tone, though little bits of rage and hate come through, and there are moments that are highly reminiscent of certain domestive arguments between emotionally selfish individuals.
Bardot dons a black wig like Godard’s ex-wife, Anna Karina.
They decide, after much arguing, to attend a day of shooting with the producer at Capri.
They attend a strange musical performance where the music decides to cut out whenver someone speaks.
At Capri, things are the pits. The producer openly despises the director. Bardot’s CONTEMPT is at its height, acting passive aggresively. Everyone is miserable, except for the director, who is happy to make film, because he’s an artist.
In then end, despite the parallels with the Odyssey, there will be no deliberation on the God’s part, nor any happy ending for our Penelope or Ulysses.
In fact, the whole thing has a tone of solemnity, because everyone’s inherent emotional stubborness is so palpable as to be irritating.
CONTEMPT is an apt title. Everyone has it for each other.
Analyze this as much as you want; Godard is still telling a simple story of people who hate each other for silly reasons.
Bardot doesn’t like her un-confident husband. He is stubborn and un-fair, the producer is an arrogant lout;
Actually, the only one who gets out of this unscathed is Fritz Lang, though to be honest, it may be biased, as Godard had great admiration for the German film-maker. He is, after all, one of the film-masters.
Of course, when the only solution is DEATH, then the film becomes tragic.
And it is.
But to say any more would spoil a rather devastating effect of oblivion.
One must experience CONTEMPT in all its cinemascope and techincolor glory.
Unlike most film-makers, and this is what makes Godard interesting, is that he uses Cinemascope as a means to EMPTY the frame of all texutres.
It creates a feeling of BIGNESS and such that is impressive. It overwhelms you and you feel exhilarated just to be loooking at such a huge canvas of bright colors and space.
Godard does this with most of his Cinemascope epics. And by epics, I mean they are big and dense and scatological in terms of themes and styles. It doesn’t matter, for whatever happens, happens.
Godard is, to me, both a niche and ever-lasting filmmaker. The style is unique, but at the same time, probing.
Raoul Coutard’s cinematography is vibrant and crystal clear. I love it. Like someone took pure colored paints and carefully applied it to all the buildings.
The score by Georges Deleure is beautiful, and heartbreakingly melancholy.
It’s as if Godard loved it so much and trusted it, that he decided to let it appear in the film whenever he pleases, with impunity, regardless of timing.
And to be honest, timing doesn’t matter with this score. It is perfect for any moment in the film.
The camera drifts along; it’s all on tracks and dollys. The film crews work dilligently and never before did it looks so practical and at the same time fascinating. Then again, Godard is in love with Cinema. The posters of American films from the 30s, 40s, and 50s are all over the walls for no particular reason.
Hell, Jack Palance is a great actor in his own right, but it’s no mistake or chance that he’s in this movie. He was known for being in several important B-films from Hollywood that are now seen as actually well-made movies of high sophistication. In a sense, he is supposed to BE American filmmaking. And this is the ambivalence of Godard; he loves the films, but he admits to not being able to work in that system.
He needs spontanaeity and improvisation. He needs breeziness and chance. He needs to work at whatever pace he needs. And most of all, he needs cinema from everywhere. And it’s everywhere. Just like the sea by the Italian coast.
This movie is about CONTEMPT. But Godard has none for the cinema.
This is “PURE CINEMA”.
Just get comfy. It’s certainly slow moving for the general viewer.