Thursday, April 20, 2006

Le Mepris (Contempt) 1963

Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, based on the Novel Contempt by Alberto Moravia

'Contempt' is one of those films I keep re-watching, simply because it's so good to look at, and so sad and true. It appeals to my feelings about the people that inhabit the modern world and love and ambition - all the crap that makes everything work whether we like it or not, or deny it otherwise with material ostentationism, familial dogma or just simple Born-again shitheadedness. 'Contempt' was made long before I was a twinge in my dad's pants or a quiver in my mum's panties. To me, 'Contempt' really defines that term 'French New-Wave' when you try to explain what all that shit means. For one, 'Contempt' is one of the most 'modern' looking films I have ever seen, except for maybe 'Blade Runner' and most of Stanley Kubrick's and Cronenberg's films. I still don't 'get' Wong Kar Wai, but watching 'Contempt' again for about the 23rd time, I don't need to. He's just a wanky po-mo version of Godard for the ho-mo culture mafia. But as my film watching has increased somewhat, and I can now start to name-drop and one-up with the biggest fucking film-geek nosepicker, 'Contempt' for me begins to take on that architectural minimal fillum aesthetic that Italy's Antonioni did so well in 'L'Aventura', 'L'Eclisse' and 'The Passenger' doubled up with Coutards super-shit-sharp cinematography.

So in that context, the title 'new wave' fits like a new pair of socks. Except for maybe the stupid top hat that the main character Paul Javal (Michel Picoli) wears, the whole style of 'Contempt' feels like any fucken page out of Vogue or Harpers - 'Contempt' is the sort of creative endeavor that 'defines' fashion and crap like that. OK, aesthetics and stylistics aside 'Contempt' is still a great piece of movie work, and IMHO the best Jean-Luc Godard film I've seen, except for 'Masculin/Feminin'. Basically 'Contempt' is about the breakdown of a marriage, the price you pay for creative, and more important 'personal' compromise, as well as other things like the nature of drama and conflict and all that fucken messy shit that causes suffering and pain and possibly redemption.

It's the stuff that people who have the guts, bust their souls over in order to create art, and possibly leave their mark with (but really art is an indulgence many can't afford to have, especially when at the end there is DEATH).

'Contempt' starts off with this weird psychedelic and sublime shot of Brigitte Bardot's ass with all these trippy colour filter stuff to 'art' it up a bit. She's lying in bed and asking her husband Paul (Michel Picoloi) what he thinks is beautiful about her.

A well framed Tinto Brass..

Quite literally fucken everything externally about her is (beautiful), it's just the internals that get so fucken tricky, as the story will reveal. Paul is a screenwriter, who has been commissioned to write a movie for American producer Jermey Prokosh (played by Jack Palance). The film he is writing is a remake of Homer's 'The Odyssey', but Prokosh wants to make it sexy and 'contemporary' or whatever. The guy hired to make this film is German director Fritz Lang who plays himself - both Lang and 'Paul' have to contend with the compromises that Prokosh demands, since quite basically he's paying for the shit. Added to this is Prokosh's power/sex/mind games that he plays on Paul's sexy wife Camille (Brigette Bardot), and you have major emotional conflict happening.

When Paul and Camille return to their luxury apartment later that day, we have a whole half hour of one of the greatest and most full-on emotional male-female sexual/political scenes ever seen ever in the motion picture history. To deny the brilliance of this passage is to deny the fact that you
have a brain, it is simply that good.

In the mood for a po-mo ripoff?

With his marriage and love life completely fucked, Paul has little choice but to follow his heart with all he has left - his writing. This follows with a emotional vomitus eruptus par excellence that Paul has with Prokosh, venting his 'Contempt' toward the compromises he has to make in order to get his vision or passion out into the world. Basically no one gives a fuck and he's left in the end with pretty much nothing. 'Contempt' is heavy stuff, but it moves along at such a fluid and dreamlike state, that it takes you until the end of the film for you to realise the emotional wallop this film has just hit you with. Throughout the film there is this deeply malancholic and grande classical music motif, which would be used by Martin Scorsese in his equally excellent film 'Casino'.

From the beginning we are aware of the sexual/emotional potency of Camille, something she wields like a cocked and loaded gun. The simplicity of the power she uses so effectively undermine Paul's values and dreams and aspirations is scary to say the least, but that is just the nature of the beast. Paul is no angel, and his treatment of Camille, especially during their drawn out fight is both misogynist and righteous, some may beg to differ, but ultimately he's left impotent and scared. But there is more to 'Contempt' than just the whole love/hate sorta thing. Just as important is the whole exploration of the creative process, and the compromises and basic mind fuck that goes with it.

'Contempt' is a fucking great film that hit me on a really personal level. It left me feeling instensely inspired.

NOTE: The CRITERION DVD is a simple no-brainer purchase for the absolute best version of this film yr gonna see. It's prolly even better than anything you'll see at yr local Cinemateque. The restoration makes the film look even more modern, slick and timeless, and EVEN BETTER than anything Wong Kong has ripped off. There's extras and other shit, though I reckon the soundtrack coulda been jizzed up a bit more. Image quality, espesh colours are so good, you'll cry.

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