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.