THAT ALL-TOO-FAMILIAR TUGGING back and forth between tenderness and growing disdain. Every couple knows about the squabblings that drag on unresolved and directionless, advancing, retreating and looping through various versions of the same arguments and accusations, until resolution is distant and contempt, deep. When taking place in the home, the endeavor is usually stalled or dulled by domestic distractions such as table-setting, bathing, taking a phone call or dressing; motions that break the dispute but not the conflict.
In Godard's Les Mépris, husband and wife Paul and Camille play out just that: a relentless, almost real-time squabble choreographed around a mid-century apartment. The emotional tug-of-war is devoid of melodrama and yet intensity surges stoically within the still-unfinished home. They go about tiresome and tireless in the confined space, and then go off to see a movie. How mundanely seductive. How seductively mundane!
Outside of the apartment, Les Mépris takes place on breathtaking locations in Rome and Capri. The film brims with style, but equally notable is the brilliance beneath its beauty. I have yet to discover the countless references and symbolisms, some proving more apparent than others: a brunette Bardot is Anna Karina, a film-can-hurling Prokosch, a discus thrower. Am I missing something? Yes, plenty.
Hardly the most cerebral of Nouvelle Vague fanatics, I tend to watch even the most dissectible films, not with my head, but with my heart. That said, consider me infatuated with Les Mépris' stunning cinematography, stylish score, pleated skirts fanning out from tiny waists, Casa Malaparte, dramatic cat eyes, and some deliciously quotable Fritz Lang quotes. "The gods have not created man. Man has created gods."
But Mr. Lang, surely the gods have created Brigitte Bardot. If that derrière isn't perfection, then I don't know what is.
Le mépris (English: Contempt), 1963. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard.