Contempt

As Paul in the film says, Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt is a story about “total, tender and tragic love”. Through the use of mise-en-scene and cinematography, Godard directs a beautiful masterpiece of the French new wave era.

A scene that really caught my eye was when Paul and Camille spent time at their apartment. The whole scene took mise-en-scene to another level. In terms of the setting, the apartment is incomplete in that there are mirrors that need to be put up on the walls and doors that seem to have no glass to the extent that people can walk right through them. This can be seen to symbolize that the couple’s “total love” is actually incomplete. A color that stands out through out the scene is red. As the climax of the film shows, the color could have foreshadowed the deadly car crash in Jerry’s red sports car. The scene’s movement and acting are very casual as well; they need to be because of the scene’s natural mood (they’re just a couple in their apartment).

Throughout the aforementioned scene, in terms of cinematography, Godard does a brilliant job with focal length, depth of field, and motion. Using the walls and their frames, the director adds tremendous depth and length to many of the shots. My favorite shot was when Camille is on the phone with her mother. The audience sees Camille from the viewpoint of another room, which exemplifies masterful framing as Godard uses the walls and the frames of two different rooms to add depth to the shot. The motion of the camera throughout the scene is also very natural as it goes back and fourth between Paul and Camille as they seem to never be in the same place. In a way, it helps show the distance between them.

Another observation I made of the film was the use of its dramatic music in the most normal and ordinary of times. The constant pause and starting of the same music added more tension and awkwardness to the film as it conveyed a sense that Paul and Camille’s love was slowly dying.

Essentially, each aspect of mise-en-scene and cinematography plays with and against each other to deliver an amazing film. Contempt is truly an artistic film experience.

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4 thoughts on “Contempt

  1. I like what you said about the mise-en-scene and cinematography. As you’ve hinted, the camera really works to be part of the film, not a way we view the film. All the effects contribute to the events and developments of its characters. Two other characters that the camera itself creates in our minds are Prokosch and Lang. As we’ve already mentioned, the producer’s introduction presents him as large, bombastic, and demanding. The angle of the camera creates a stage for him to perform a “soliloquy” for his listeners. This effect appears again during the screening when he announces his distaste for Lang’s work and he knocks over all the film canisters. He is positioned at the front of the room, again with him facing the characters whose backs are to us. By standing in front of the screen, being the only one moving and talking further depicts his negative qualities. Meanwhile, Lang simply watches. He becomes more of a spectator of the film’s events. The camera is nice to him. The shots of him are kept at eye level, and there are no dramatic effects focused on him. Lang is perhaps the only stable character in the film. He is blameless and stays out of all conflicts, as shown by the way the camera favors him. These difference also reflects Godard’s feelings toward both characters. He seems admiring of Lang (who is a director he idolizes in real life) and more condemning of Prokosch (who represents American producers whom he detested).

  2. The music, along with the subtitles were the two things that distorted the emotions of the characters in my mind. I did not understand how they were talking in such calm voices, yet the background music was so dramatic. Due to this mix up I was not able to adequately interpret the emotions of the characters. Anger was never expressed except for Paul’s short fits and Camille seemed to be calm and in control the whole time even though she was going through an emotional breakdown. This film is very sad in my opinion and the use of the color red and black definitely express this.

  3. What you pointed out about the symbolism about the door really caught my attention and I thought it was a very interesting observation. The thought of this symbolizing their lack of “total love” is very true and I agree. When Paul is constantly doing weird combinations of walking through the door, opening the door, and somehow doing both at the same time, it symbolizes the uncertainty of the current situations that he’s going through. These actions are most likely running parallel with his actions because he seems to be a little out of the loop with Camille’s emotions and actions. It is also interesting that the first time he steps right through the door, it is completely unexpected (at least for me). The viewer assumes that there is glass- like every other door- but instead he just steps right through it. This is an obviously deliberately placed prop and shows a lot about the emotions that are flying around that apartment at all times.

  4. I definitely agree when you talk about that one thirty minute sequence where Camille and Paul argue in their apartment. In this scene, you can see these two people falling out of love, as their relationship begins to collapse. Goddard brilliantly directs this scene, using all aspects of mise en scene to show how two people can fall out of love without clearly knowing the reason. He is also aided by the amazing acting in this scene, but he creates tension through his cinematography that the actors feed off of. It cannot be understated the masterfulness of this scene; it can be analyzed at any level. I also agree that the one shot where Camille is on the phone uses depth, and the foreground and background to show the estrangement they feel towards each other.

    Also, the appearance of certain props and the setting show the changing relationship between the two. For example, the statue of the woman almost makes Camille seem foreign to Paul as long as her wig. The incompleteness of the setting (the apartment) shows the incompleteness in their relationship.

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