Monday, September 19, 2016

"Contempt" (1963)

So this is the best work of art produced in post-war Europe? Sight and Sound in 1997 thought so. I could think of a few alternate suggestions. Not that this film doesn’t try to say something or that it does it in a poor way. But it is a bit stilted and heavy handed.

Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli play Camille and Paul, a happily married couple in love with each other. Paul is a writer who is hired by a film producer named Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rewrite the script for Fritz Lang’s latest film. Prokosch is a rich, philandering, ignoramus, and he sort of hits on Camille when they first meet. Paul, perhaps in an effort to come across and non-threatened and self-assured, does not protest when Prokosch wants to drive Camille to his house alone. Paul is to follow in a cab. He should have insisted that he and Camille take the cab.

Not because Camille is swept away by Prokosch’s charms, but rather because Camille stops loving Paul because he didn’t appear jealous. He didn’t protect her. In fact, she is now disgusted by Paul.

Most of the film is an extended argument between Paul and Camille. He fails to understand why she doesn’t love him anymore. She refuses to clarify her feelings. (His lack of understanding her feelings is much of the problem in the first place.) Along the way there is also a bit of commentary of art and integrity of vision, but the relationship is the focus.

In fact, producers were upset that Godard didn’t accentuate Bardot’s body more; nicely proving his point about the artist’s struggle. In the end, he added a scene at the start of the film where the couple declare their deep love for one another, conveniently shooting the entire scene with a naked Bardot exposing her backside. The real life producer must have been a Prokosch-type, because he said it was the only redeeming part of the film. Thematically, it is completely out of place.

Ultimately, “Contempt” shows the bewildering damage that relationships suffer under the devastating control of sin. We all recognize the isolation one feels in a relationship that demands total transparency when we can’t always see if it is being reciprocated. That isolation is one of the most painful aspects of the Fall.

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