The day you see your first Godard film is always a life changing day. Though this is undoubtedly true of the day I watched Contempt back in my Sophmore year of college, I would have much rather my first experience with Godard be Band of Outsider or Pierrot le Fou.

My reason is one that many people might not agree with. While I am firmly of the belief that all cinema has a real association with love, the purpose of Contempt is the opposite, to inspire a lack of love, to inspire an unforgivable lack of feeling towards the characters in the film. It accomplishes this quite well, making the film hard to watch but unquestionably brilliant.

Like most of Godard's films (if not all), Contempt is a film about film. Not only are the main characters a scriptwriter, a producer, and a director, but the film makes you aware of the camera from the beginning. The first shot has the two lovers of the story talking in bed, with Bridgette Bardot naked above the covers, the lens filter changes several times in the scene, constantly casting the shot in different colors.

The most striking scene in the film, is the argument the couple has in their apartment. The apartment is only half completed and looks sort of like a film set. As the tension builds up Godard breaks more and more cinematic rules (most noticeably he cuts cross the 180 degree line quite a few times), which catapults the tension into the final breakdown, when the couple's polite argument ends with Bardot telling her boyfriend that it isn't that she has stopped loving him, its that she holds total contempt for him.

The easiest way for this film to be read is as a critique of the place of women in visual culture, similar to the arguments made ten years later by Laura Mulvey in her essay "Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema," or by John Berger in the book "Ways of Seeing." Unfortunately just because that's the easiest way to read the film does not make it the correct way to read the film, and I think if we look at where it is in Godard's canon this interpretation really does not even make sense.

Instead I would argue that he plays on the contrast between the film industry and the things that it is filming. Those living things under the camera, and the business of making money off of them. The main crime of the man who is hated in this film is to get more wrapped up in the making of a Hollywood film with a sleazy producer, then he is in inspiring passion in Bridget Bardot (I was going to say "his girlfriend" but I think if your girlfriend is Bridget Bardot she is in her own category). He thinks that she has stopped loving him because she erroneously thought he wanted her to sleep with the producer, but she responds that it is just because he cannot inspire feelings in her anymore (the exact quote is quite nice, but I forget what it is). The point being, that the problem is not that she is being objectified, it is that she is not being objectified in the way one looks at an object of love, as something different from you, and slightly magical, not as the third party to a business negotiation.

The reason I am almost sure this argument is right, is because of Godard's relationship with Anna Karina at this time (the film was made in 1963). In any film with Anna Karina in it - lets say from Vivre Sa Vie (1962) to Pierrot Le Fou (1965) - Godard finds a way to tell the audience everything he likes about this woman, her legs, her eyes, the way she walks, talks dances, Godard tries to point to all the reasons he enjoys watching her, and likewise you enjoy watching her, or watching her being watched by Godard. Watching someone is something you do with a person you love, not a person you do not value.

You want desperately to love both these characters, but Godard refuses to let either of them insight your passion.

Buy Contempt

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