The Daily Stream: Contempt Is A Gateway To Godard And The French New Wave

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The Daily Stream: Contempt Is A Gateway To Godard And The French New Wave

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing collection through which the /Film crew shares what they have been watching, why it is value trying out, and the place you possibly can stream it.)

The Movie: “Contempt” (“Le Mépris”)

Where You Can Stream It: The Criterion Channel

The Pitch: A French screenwriter, Paul (Michel Piccoli), sees his marriage break down as an American producer enlists him to rewrite a movie adaptation of Homer’s “Odyssey.” Jack Palance (“Shane,” “Batman”) performs the producer, whose prurient curiosity in Paul’s spouse, Camille (Brigitte Bardot) is only one meta side of “Contempt,” Jean-Luc Godard’s first big-budget movie and the one one he made with an American co-producer (an uncredited Joseph E. Levine).

In Sight & Sound‘s once-in-a-decade ballot of the 100 best movies, “Contempt” (listed beneath its French title, “Le Mépris”) tied with “The Godfather” at #21. Godard’s directorial debut, “Breathless,” ranked forward of each of them at #13, which simply goes to indicate what a heavyweight he’s by way of affect. He and François Truffaut, two Cahiers du Cinema critics turned filmmakers, have been on the forefront of the French New Wave within the late Nineteen Fifties and early Nineteen Sixties.

Many of the administrators whose work stateside cinephiles know and love have been impressed by the French New Wave. When figures like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg emerged within the New Hollywood period, or American New Wave, they took a cue from the iconoclastic methods of their French forerunners — whose affect would lengthen past the ’70s to impartial filmmakers of the ’80s and ’90s like Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino. Truffaut had a job in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” whereas Scorsese utilized Georges Delerue’s “Theme de Camille,” a signature piece of music from “Contempt,” in his mob epic “Casino.”

Why It’s Essential Viewing

“Contempt” is a basic of world cinema and, along with “Breathless,” is usually cited as Godard’s most accessible work. It’s actually his starriest. In addition to Bardot and Palance, Fritz Lang, director of the German expressionist masterworks, “Metropolis” and “M,” co-stars as himself. He’s the one helming this “Odyssey” adaptation, and within the push-and-pull between him and Palance’s character, Prokosch, you possibly can really feel the strain between artwork and commerce.

Paul and Camille are caught within the center. On one stage, the film capabilities as a easy doomed romance, however on one other stage, it capabilities because the story of an artist betraying his muse and conforming to business requirements, such that his muse abandons him. In one scene, Godard frames the dichotomy between Camilla/Lang and Paul/Prokosch by having them sit on reverse sides of a theater aisle.

There’s some emotional heft to “Contempt,” nevertheless it’s additionally fascinating as a metacinema extension of movie criticism. The film opens with a digital camera gliding alongside a monitor subsequent to a girl on a studio backlot. The voiceover observes how cinema substitutes “a world more in harmony with our desires,” earlier than the digital camera onscreen turns and appears proper down into our digital camera, the all-seeing viewers eye.

The gender politics are what you may anticipate from a film that is happening 60 years previous. Bardot was a world intercourse image on the time, and producers wished extra of her and her physique to promote their film. Godard thumbed his nostril at them by inserting a pillow speak scene the place she itemizes her personal physique components, asking Paul if he loves them, because the scopophilic male gaze travels down her again and lingers on her naked buttocks. “I love you completely, tenderly, and tragically,” Paul says.

Soon, we’re on the backlot once more, solely now, we are the ones gliding alongside the lady, Prokosch’s assistant and translator, Francesca (Giorgia Moll), as she walks up the road. Our information of the opening scene underpins this monitoring shot and we understand that the viewer has switched locations with the cameraman.

‘The Market Where Lies Are Sold’

In the screening room, Lang talks concerning the particular person combating towards circumstances, as personified by the gods within the Greco-Roman myths of previous. Over and above the summary imagery coming from the projection sales space, there are hints that Paul’s story is a contemporary parallel to that of Odysseus or Ulysses, with Prokosch serving as his Poseidon or Neptune, the ocean god who blew the hero off-course as he was returning residence from the Trojan War.

Prokosch even smiles and says, “I like gods. I like them very much. I know exactly how they feel. Exactly.” When he will get offended, he hurls a movie canister like he is doing the discus throw within the Olympics. When he speeds off with Camille in his sports activities automobile, and once more later, in his boat, it is paying homage to the parable of Europa, through which Zeus made off with a mortal girl throughout the ocean.

As “Contempt” retreats to Paul and Camille’s house, the place its 30-minute center part performs out, Paul wraps a white tub towel round himself like a toga. He been handsy with Francesca and he hits Camille and there is at all times the query of his motivation. Is he utilizing Camille’s magnificence to advance his profession with Prokosch, or passively permitting the producer to maneuver in on his spouse, or simply letting her — like Penelope in “The Odyssey” — entertain a suitor whom he doesn’t take into account a critical rival?

Camille feels that life is forcing her to go along with him to the isle of Capri, the place destiny closes in on them on on the Casa Malaparte, a scenic villa with pyramidal steps resulting in an open rooftop on a cliff overlooking the ocean. She tells him he is modified since he met these “movie people,” but he nonetheless aspires to a non-existent world like Homer’s or Hollywood’s, “the market where lies are sold,” as Lang calls it.

It can solely finish with a god-in-the-machine catastrophe, which exhibits how ill-equipped commerce may be as a custodian of muses. If you are like me and are at all times seeking to fill blind spots in your movie information, “Contempt” provides a window into an essential a part of our cinema heritage. Give it a watch, and it might quickly have you ever in search of out different French New Wave titles like “The 400 Blows.”


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