Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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Formidable Simplicity

Brigitte Bardot's ass and Fritz Lang are the two most important things in Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film Contempt. They could be seen as opposing forces as Bardot's character, Camille, tells her screenwriter husband Paul at one point a joke about a man who goes to buy a flying carpet. The man complains that the carpet won't get off the ground and the merchant explains of course it won't fly so long as the man is thinking about ass. Since he can't stop thinking about ass, the carpet won't get off the ground.

Paul (Michel Piccoli) has been hired by Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance), a shallow playboy producer, to rewrite a script for a movie Fritz Lang has already started shooting, an adaptation of The Odyssey. Lang, the legendary pioneering Expressionist filmmaker of Metropolis and M, plays himself in Contempt and actually gives a rather good performance, apparently his first acting role in his career.

I don't know if the opinions he expresses are Godard's or his own or both, but what he says about The Odyssey is certainly insightful, saying that the charm of it is the "belief in reality as it is." This insight is shared with Paul as a contrast to Jeremy's desire to change the story so that Penelope has been unfaithful to Odysseus. This conflict between producer and director, in which Paul is caught in the middle, mirrors the marital troubles between Camille and Paul.

After she's been alone with Jeremy for a while, Camille suddenly becomes cold to Paul, precipitating a thirty four minute argument between the two in their apartment which mainly involves Paul asking Camille questions and attempting to read her mind when answers aren't forthcoming or satisfactory. She switches between telling Paul she still loves him and telling him she doesn't love him anymore. She says it's not Jeremy who's changed her attitude, she says she hates him, but she shoots Paul meaningful glares whenever he casually allows her and Jeremy to be alone together, as though she blames him for allowing an impulse to fester within her to go with Jeremy.

Shots centred on Bardot's ass are almost randomly inserted at times. The idea doesn't seem to be to condemn nudity for cheapening art as much as to say it's sadly wasted on the vulgarity of someone like Jeremy or the neuroses of someone like Paul. Lang's point about the simplicity of Odysseus' relationship with his wife and her being faithful after being surrounded for so long by suitors in his absence takes on a prescience.

The clips we see of the fictional Lang take on The Odyssey mostly consist of shots of Greek statues garishly painted, kind of a neat shorthand for a potential film adaptation of the classic story.

After watching a bit he particularly hates, Jeremy picks up a reel of film and throws it like a discus, prompting Lang to dryly observe, "Finally you get the feel of Greek culture."

Jeremy replies, "Whenever I hear the word 'culture' I bring out my checkbook." He then says to his assistant, "C'mere," and begins making out a check to Paul, writing on her back while she's bent over in front of him. And Lang says

Contempt is a movie about how art and love can be destroyed by failure of imagination or failure to observe and respect nature.

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