Question everything

Q&A by Filep Motwary
Q&A Series by Filep Motwary
Curator, photographer, blogger and costume designer Filep Motwary, conducted a series of interviews with top opinion leaders in fashion
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19 Sep

Le Mépris by Jean-Luc Godard

Le Mepris by Jean-Luc Godard | Runaway Review: Lacoste SS17

Runway Review – Lacoste SS17

Is that smile mocking, or tender?

Tender, she answers, but the doubt lingers. That’s partly due to Camille Javal being a Godard’s character, who shares with plenty of others what Richard Brody pinpoints as ‘a kind of reserved expressiveness, a steadiness that is non-theatrical but in no way natural,’ hence why we can’t quite read her. Partly, it’s because she’s played by Brigitte Bardot. The asperity we would expect to hear were another actress to speak the line – say the director’s first choice, Kim Novak, or even his second choice, Monica Vitti – is sweetened by her portrayal, which adds a layer of meta-ambiguity that perfectly suits the atmosphere. To the audience of 1963 Bardot was the blonde sex kitten, a moniker invented just for her, whose widespread fame had little yet to do with her acting skills. Her casting had been at the insistence of the film’s producers, Joseph E. Levine and Carlo Ponti, whom Godard despised, and the filmmaker’s on-set relationship with his female lead wasn’t always that rosy either. Still, she delivers one of the finest performances of her career, and within a film that’s first of all a critique of the movie industry of its time, the deliberate exploitation of her beauty – for instance in the nude opening scene, shot after Godard considered Le Mépris finished, once again at the producers’ insistence – reiterates his message and becomes symbolic. Godard’s contempt, here, is Camille’s own. Indeed, the mise-en-scène may follow her husband Paul, but it’s Camille who’s the real protagonist of Le Mépris, or Contempt in its American release. She’s the contemptuous one. Paul, played by Michel Piccoli, is a playwright hired by film producer Jerry, played by Jack Palance and loosely modelled on Ponti and Levine. His job is to touch up the script for an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey, directed by Fritz Lang, played by Fritz Lang, from art film into profitable blockbuster – above all else, any one film starring both Lang and BB deserves to be seen. Camille, though absent from the scene, is the extenuating circumstance to Paul’s moral qualms: “someone told me that you have a very beautiful wife” says Jerry, and promises a large paycheck. His acceptance, however, is precisely when she begins to despise him. Tentatively at first, as if to her innocence the feeling is foreign, but all the more surely as he insists to leave Camille alone with Jerry, twice, when the man makes overt passes at her in front of her husband. As sure of her love as Paul wants to appear in public, however, he privately needs constant reassurance. If Lang and Jerry are polar opposites in their beliefs, Paul’s mercenary behaviour, and his insecurity, are worse than either in the eyes of Camille. Brody reports that in a preliminary script, Godard described Paul as “a character from Marienbad who wants to play the role of a character in Rio Bravo”. Contempt itself is an adaptation of the Italian novel Il Disprezzo by Alberto Moravia, and Paul, Jerry and Camille also step into the shoes of Ulysses, Poseidon, and Penelope. But ultimately the film is, as Little White Lies puts it, a marital ‘tennis match’ between Paul and Camille, whose last scene together is vivid with all the Technicolor money could buy: Bardot, in or on her yellow bathrobe, on the fire brick rooftop patio and down the 99 steps of Casa Malaparte, into the blue Mediterrean Sea. Shot in Franscope, the French equivalent to the CinemaScope that Lang dismisses, 15 minutes in, as “made for snakes and coffins”, Godard indulges in the aesthetic luxuries allowed by his first big budget at the same time as he humours his producers’ demands – yet unlike Paul’s, his integrity is never questioned and his Contempt, always clear.


Runway Reviews

This in an ongoing series covering the most important fashion shows from around the world through the gaze of film. Moving images continually inspire collections and designers are more involved in the film world than ever; indeed Fashion Film is a verified genre. So rather than examining the garments on the runway, writer Silvia Bombardini analyses the film that inspired them in the first place.

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