Week 6 Assignment

Contempt

Jean-Luc Godard, as a trademark in all his films, uses the camera not as a lens through which we view the story, but as an effect that is a part of the story. Contempt, which is one of his earlier and highest budgeted films, shows that camerawork can create a vast array of dramatic effects.

One of the most visibly stunning achievements featured in the film is Godard’s rambling argument scene at the couple’s apartment, which runs for over 30 minutes. There is a tension in their dialogue that is highly dramatized by the way the camera works. The camera moves with a certain frustration. It cannot sit still because the characters are high strung. They are constantly running to and from one another through different rooms, both with some new point to make. The traditional and obvious way to film this sequence is to take many close-ups and framings that highlight every ounce of dialogue and action and to edit it sequentially. But instead, Godard strategically plants the camera in odd places that give us glimpses. Oftentimes, the camera has to move and reframe itself as it tries to keep them in a shot together. But those shots are never maintained, thus creating this frustrating effect. The camera cannot keep up with them, portraying their separation. They seem estranged not necessarily through their fluctuating and uncertain dialogue, but through our inability to see them together. Walls, doors, and columns are always dividing them in our view.

At the climax of this sequence, they finally sit down in front of each other. But the camera refuses to let us see it in a natural way. As Paul asks Camille if she loves him, she answers with uncertainty in her voice and the exchange continues to repeat itself in a circular rhythm. Throughout the scene, the camera bounces back and forth between close-ups as they respond to each other. The constant panning is as if the camera is the ball in a game of “Pong.” Even when they sit down and talk, there is this separation. Shots of them together are never maintained for an extended amount of time, as they were captured in the opening scene.

This back and forth experimental shot is featured again in the theater scene to further depict their disunity. It is through this function of the camerawork, that the film finds its harmony. Every shot is a primary part of what is happening and how the story is developing.

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3 thoughts on “Week 6 Assignment

  1. I also think that camera work in this film is incredible, especially in the apartment scene. The camera had a nice effect of portraying Camille and Paul’s failing relationship by always showing them separated by either a door or a wall. It really showed how their love was falling apart, so much that they couldn’t even be in the same room together. From our perspective, the apartment looked a lot larger than it actually was because of the long shots and the way the camera panned back and forth between different scenes at every moment. Even when the characters are talking to each other, they are doing so from across the apartment as the scene progressed. This is the part of film where we see the tension between Paul and Camille. I thought it was interesting that you referred to the camera work as “pong” because that’s exactly what it looked like. When Camille and Paul are having a serious conversation, a lamp separated their faces and you never got both of their faces in one shot. The camera goes back and forth between them and it was like a game of tennis where you watch the ball pass from player to player.

  2. That scene in Camille and Paul’s apartment is certainly a rich one, especially in terms of cinematography, and you made some good points about the camerawork. I agree in that the constant moving of the camera and never placing the two of them in the same shot mirrors the frustration in their relationship. The shot we saw today in class of the statue facing away from Paul and being used as a stand-in for Camille definitely adds to this scene’s complexity. In terms of evoking a strong emotion in the viewer (in this case, frustration, and maybe even some boredom), this scene definitely does its job in carrying the film’s tragic romance along.

  3. When they are in their apartment, their walls placed them away from each other and they were never able to truly be together in a scene even though they are talking to each other. The film likes to have one character speaking but never have that person speaking in the shot. Instead in focuses on the reactions of the characters without having them be together in a shot which definitely adds difference. Sometimes it even feels to me that they are empty words said to each other, adding to the somewhat thin plot. There is also a lot of disarray in the film when Paul is in his workroom writing the film for the Odyssey, his area is where the door without the middle is. On the other hand, Camille only seems to be in the completed areas which adds to the broken relationship that everything in the film is trying to save.

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