Contempt, Godard’s French New Wave Cinema masterpiece, appears very simple at face value – depicting the tragic yet relatable disintegration of a romantic relationship – but actually contains many underlying layers illuminated and magnified through the film’s cinematography.
The setting and the focal lengths and depths of field through which they are filmed often reflect the psychology of the characters; for example, the framing of the couple’s apartment, especially during the long scene within which they are arguing/conversing, almost opens up the mind of Paul to the audience’s psychoanalysis. Based on the nature of the framing and the distorted sense of distance created by the shots, etc., Paul’s irrational and confused state of mind towards the reality of the relationship is elucidated. Furthermore, the hectic physical state embodied by the dialogue between the couple (as they speak between walls, circling around each other, etc.) also reflects the state of restlessness between the couple themselves as their romance falls apart. The generous use of jump-cuts coupled with this illusory distortion of space makes the sense of time and our understanding of the passage of time within the film very difficult.
The use of colors to represent certain ideas/concepts is also prevalent. For example, many objects appear as red throughout the film; and the switching of the lens filters (twice) in the bedroom scene mirrors the transition from a passionate, honeymoon-phase (red) to the shattering of the illusion and realization of reality (clear) to the ultimately tragic end (blue – also foreshadowed by Paul’s words in that same scene, “I love you completely, tenderly, and tragically“).
Overall, I viewed the film itself as a piece of poetry translated into film (emphasized by the fact that the plot of the film is oriented around the translation of Homer’s poetry to the cinema). Despite its rather disconnected parts and relatively short statements – expressed through its array of jump cuts, sometimes frenzied use of all three focal lengths, distorted sense of time, etc. – the film undeniably flows together as a whole. And just as in a poem, some key elements are repeated throughout, such as the swelling orchestral theme, some statements within the dialogue (“Why don’t you love me?”, as well as during the flashback/dream-esque scene during which an entire monologue was repeated), the emphasis on the nudity/sexuality of Chamille, etc. On the emotional level, the film is also a work of poetry, as the feelings of love and passion grown into hatred and contempt become disturbingly palpable through Godard’s clever cinematography.