Le Mépris is very different from the political films of Godard’s Nouvelle Vague catalogue. Here the focus is a microcosm, the death of a relationship. Godard demands a lot from his audience. We barely see the couple in question in the hey-day of their love, only in the decline. We must take for granted what has come before. That film where a man and woman fall in love has been made a million times. To make way for Le Mépris we must accept that they start happy, as the typical single at the start of a romance begins unhappy.
The entire second act of the film takes place is a small, open plan apartment. While the camera does cut throughout this sequence the continuity of time and space gives it a fly-on-the-wall feeling, more like a stage play or documentary than a film. The whole conversation is left whole in the film, even when the characters repeat themselves or speak tangentially to what the film is saying. The enclosed space echoes Camille’s (Brgitte Bardot) sense of entrapment in her marriage while the slightly overlong sequence gives the viewer a sense of her utter boredom with her life.
Throughout all this Camille’s estranged husband (Michel Piccoli) is working on an adaption of the Odyssey with Fritz Lang, idol and supporter of the Nouvelle Vague playing himself in a subtle twist of metafiction. The symbolism and metaphor of the odyssey story interweaves with the lives of the couple, however the metaphor doesn’t seem to quite apply. It is as mismatched and uncomfortable as the people it is describing.
Of course the film doesn’t get away without some political comment. The American producer (Jack Palance) is written as a bafoon who reads fortune cookies as if they were profound statements. He fails to understand Lang’s work, the definitive European cinema of art and beauty and tries to commercialise it, Americanise it. Interestingly Godard’s experience in making Le Mépris involved shooting an entire scene after the film wrapped because the producers believed a scene with a nude Bardot would increase ratings.
The film is slow-moving and confusing. Perhaps, however, we are not meant to understand. Just as no one can pinpoint when love fades to contempt one cannot expect the film to be definitive in anything. If the theme is the confusion of lost love shouldn’t the audience too be confused?
- Entertainment: 1/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 5/5