Notes on “Contempt”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


“Contempt” probably doesn’t work. But is it intended to? Director Jean-Luc Godard is rare among filmmakers of the sound era in his ability to treat movies perfunctorily. He’s a doodler, a sketch artist; ideas flit across the screen with a breeziness that can leave you gasping; at times the contents of Godard’s head seem to have been spilled out for our perusal. Which is to say that it’s possible to take “Contempt” in parts, disregarding what doesn’t work for you. Godard’s commentary on the commercial side of movies is shrill and more than a little trite, and the connections drawn to Classical art are half-baked, but the relationship stuff is just about unique in movies, particularly in the way in which it activates the picture’s weirdly disparate elements. Godard’s feeling for Anna Karina (the real subject of the movie), and his disappointment at the limitations of mere feeling, give resonance to the themes of both “The Odyssey” (the subject of the film-within-a-film) and artistic compromise. A sense of longing, of hopeless nostalgia, is inescapable, especially when Georges Delerue’s mournful score swells on the soundtrack. The longing is not for Ithaca and home but for stability and permanence — for art as an end rather than as a fraught and subjective process. The long scene in which Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot argue in their characters’ under-construction flat is the sequel to the similarly long scene in “Breathless.” The earlier scene was a seduction, the latter a death match. Godard stages it in sections, like a play intended to condense into parts the complexity of an entire relationship. You can feel the entropy devouring the union. Though the marriage is highly conceptualized, Godard manages to imbue it with facets of realism, some of which stick in your gut. For example, I can’t think of a movie that better demonstrates the manner in which small husbanding mistakes (in this case, the Piccoli character’s failure to object to his wife being left alone with his boorish producer) can cascade into insurmountable differences.

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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