10 February 2013

men and women rendered graceless by their times

From a New York Times review on the 45th anniversary of the film.  By Terrence Rafferty.

Ms. Bardot’s body, in that first scene, and Capri, in the concluding scenes, are the natural world that nobody in this movie seems quite capable of harmonizing with, or of seeing, as entirely, irreducibly real, the way Homer did. And it isn’t, of course. As “Contempt” does not allow us to forget, Lang is shooting a movie, and we in the audience are watching one, and here, as in every other movie ever made, we gaze, like Odysseus in this film’s gorgeous final shot, at a reality that’s a projection of our own desires, an Ithaca turned hazy by artifice and distance.

The greatness of “Contempt” is that Mr. Godard is not, finally, nostalgic for the Homeric harmony Lang speaks of. He knows that ship has sailed. In this picture everything, ancient or modern, “real” or “unreal,” has its own stunned dignity, and the movie wants us to see it all as beautiful — as its people, tragically, cannot. Even early ’60s furniture. “Contempt” is about men and women rendered graceless by their times, but the movie, substituting rigorous aesthetics for the novel’s psychology, shows us where they (and we) went wrong and achieves an extraordinary grace. (The crisp natural-light cinematography, by Raoul Coutard, and Georges Delerue’s mournful score have something to do with this too.)

Maybe we need “Contempt” because it’s one of the few movies of the anxious past half-century that seems equally at home with history and modernity. It might once have looked conventional, but its audacity, we now see, is breathtaking. The world of “Contempt” is epic in a new way: a world growing in harmony, not opposition, with artifice.

No comments:

Post a Comment