Contempt

I first watched this film a couple of years ago. Although I was wowed by the visuals, I was bored by the story and the characters. However with a little more time and a little more experience, I have come to love this film. It is one of the most subtle films in Godard’s filmography (so far at least). Everything is hidden under the surface and the techniques he uses in making the film.

I want to talk about the visuals first. This film strikes opens on a still shot filming a tracking shot shooting a young girl walking down the street. The credits are spoken and not written on the screen. Throughout the whole film, Godard uses bright colors to represent the flags of France and America. He uses filters to let the audience know that you are aware of watching a film. This is something I always love about Godard. He always calls attention to the fact you are not watching something real, but that you are watching a story. The artists I admire most are the ones who produce art with a self-awareness. They don’t aim for timelessness through generic settings and characters, but an art work entrenched in its times both in its politics and psychological motivations. Godard is of course firmly apart of the second camp. The viewer can never escape that fact that this is 1963 in Italy. The motivations are unique to each characters given where they are in relation to the world at this time.

This film is about a French writer who takes a job from an American producer to rewrite a screenplay. The original author of the screenplay being Fritz Lang (German-American). The multiple cultures colliding is an important theme in the film. Each person is interpreted by one woman who speaks all of the languages being spoken. As anyone knows when forced to play telephone in English class to demonstrate the fickleness of language, the finished speech is never what was said at the beginning. The woman takes what the American producer says, for instance, and makes the translation softer, less direct. She tries to make the producer appear smarter than he is. This also applies to the grander theme of misinterpretation. Even when two people are speaking one language to each other, things get misunderstood or are meant to be something that they do not seem to be.

The relationship between the writer and his wife is what drives this film. The writer is constantly in conflict with himself on whether or not to rewrite a brilliant script for the money or if he actually wants to do it for the challenge. He unwittingly prostitutes his wife to the vulgar American producer by letting her go off with him in his Aston Marten. He makes up some flimsy excuses and his wife resents him for it. Some would say contempt him for it…See what I did there? Anyway this culminates a brilliant argument between them at their flat.

Brigitte Bardot is amazing as the wife. Her performance is a slow burn that culminates in justified resentment with her husband. This is the only film I have seen of hers, but she is way more than a beautiful naked lady. She is not only gorgeous to look at (and she is very naked several times in the film, only because that is what got her viewers.) but she is a subtle actress who is this woman, not just portraying this woman.

Other mentions of great performances are Fritz Lang and Jack Palance. Jack Palance the dumbass producer who represents the greed that is apparent in the old Hollywood system. Fritz Lang plays himself and brings an experience to the “character” that he plays. Mentioned in the film and outside the film in several biographies, Lang had several problems with artistic integrity throughout the course of making his films. In Germany, he was asked to head the Third Reich film industry and therefore fled to Hollywood, where they embraced him with open arms, chopped up his soul and spit him out. By the time this film was made, he hadn’t made a film in several years.

This film is about the art of filmmaking in several ways. Not only does Godard bring to the viewer’s conscious that you are watching a film, but also the perils that go into making a film when massive amounts of money are involved (or when any money is involved).  Even though Godard hated making this film, he did a great job and should be proud of his production.

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