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Le mépris (1963)
There are some films that can't really be contained into a simple paragraph and mere words can't express what they're really all about. In a word, I thought "Contempt" was marvelous. In several words, it was also beautiful and heartbreaking. This is a film that I really wanted to like and usually when I want to like something, I don't. This time I more than liked what I wanted to like, but rather, I loved it! Let's cover the basics and then we'll get into some of the more symbolic elements and some of my interpretations. The acting is fine, with Palance being a surprisingly good fit and a really great pair of finds in Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot. They had great chemistry together, even though their characters, for the most part, lacked chemistry. And what about that music? It was almost tear inducing. There were times throughout the picture when it would strike up and I'd wonder if I was supposed to be feeling something at that moment. It was such a powerful score and it was played throughout A LOT of the movie. Played too much, perhaps? Well, it was just so good, that I can't bring myself to say that, but it's possible I guess.
So, anyway, Camille is mad at Paul for not protesting when Jerry offered to take her alone in the car. Jerry was obviously hot for Camille and his reasoning for wanting to be alone with her was absolute poppycock, "Oh Paul, you surely won't be comfortable stuffed into the backseat, why don't you take a cab", to which Paul replied, "Oh sure Jerry, I'll just take a cab". Come on dude, you're wife is a gorgeous blonde and this arrogant, confident, good-looking man, whom you can't understand, is going to take her alone and all you can say is, "sure, why not". Now, on the other hand, does Camille's eventual backlash due to Paul's decision warrant such drastic measures? I mean, it's later revealed, when Paul recounts his interpretation of Homer's Odyssey, that he really did it because he had faith in his wife. He knew she wouldn't cheat on him, so he didn't have any problem allowing her to go alone with Jerry. It's a situation that I can see both points of view on, so therefore, the film works for me, because their arguments always seem genuine. I can see both sides, so all of the questions from Paul and all of the actions from Camille make, at least, some sense.
I have to say I was pretty proud of myself for picking up on the correlation between Paul, Camille & Jerry and Ulysses, Penelope & Poseidon. Of course, it's all laid out for you, so it's not as if you've had to have read The Odyssey. I also (and I'm not lying) picked up on Bardot's resemblance to Anna Karina (Godard's real life wife) when she donned the black wig. In fact, even from there I made the assumption that Camille dying in the end was Godard's way of saying, "Take that bitch!". I can already tell that Godard didn't have a very high opinion of women and that, for the most, part he thought them to act very childish and stubborn and possibly had great disdain for them or maybe just one in particular. Obviously here, Godard takes the side of Paul, playing down his actions and heightening the complaints and absurd behavior of Camille and then killing her for being so bull-headed. You can also look at the camera shots, specifically those from the entire scene in the apartment, when the two are at the height of their argument. Godard isn't constantly forcing us into the situation, but, for the most part, allowing us to peer through doorways, as if we're peering in on a real-life disagreement - possibly his way of saying, "it's more than a movie folks, it's my life - take a look".
Godard also seemed to be trying to say something, in the fact that you had Paul, a playwright who could form interpretations of Homer's writings and understand quotes about Dante, but couldn't interpret his own wife's emotions. Perhaps he's trying to say that women are impossible to understand?
I had a deep desire to understand every facet of this film. While I'm sure I didn't understand EVERY FACET, I think I swallowed it very well and understood the majority of it. This blow's "Breathless" and "My Life to Live" out of the water. I just finished and I can say, I honestly can't wait to see it again and try to fit more of the puzzle pieces into place.
Whenever I'm not 100% sure, I have ways of telling whether or not I liked a particular movie. If I find myself on IMDb following the watching of said movie, reading message board posts and seeing what others had to say about it, that's a good sign. If I find myself retelling the plot, in detail, to my wife, that's also a good sign. Both of these signs were fulfilled following the watching of "Happiness" and after going through an entire day not really knowing whether to accept or reject this film (I watched it last night), I think I've finally decided. I think it's a really great movie, despite some really appalling and disgusting subject matter. You see, that's not really easy for me to admit because I'd seen "Happiness" once before and in fact, I used to own "Happiness" on DVD (a blind buy purely because Philip Seymour Hoffman was a part of the cast - I used to love that guy...still do). It sat on my DVD shelf for years and when I finally broke down and gave it a watch, I hated it. I'm pretty sure I didn't waste any time selling it away and figured I'd never watch it again. Well, apparently I didn't know about THE BOOK then and when THE BOOK came along, I realized I'd have to give it one more go around. I think that pretty much brings us up to speed on where I stand with this movie. This time, I had absolutely no problem sitting through this over two hour movie, which felt more like forty-five minutes. Solondz used his time very wisely and didn't take a second of his film for granted, cramming in something essential during every scene.
It's a controversial piece, there's no denying that. It's a film that will certainly leave your casual movie goer with a dropped jaw and probably turn off a lot of people. I won't deny that there were times during the picture where I felt dirty and disgusting for even watching it and even more so, for enjoying it. Certainly I'm, for the most part, talking about the storyline involving Dylan Baker. However, the film (in a way) redeems itself for giving us a few happy moments, moments of closure and letting us know that, at least these characters recognize their wrongdoing, which is more than we get in real life sometimes. The short scene where Bill Maplewood turns to his half sleeping wife, in bed and tells her that "he's sick", not referring to a virus he may have picked up, but rather that he's sick for being a pedophile. He's sobbing at the time and really, I thought that was a brilliant inclusion and I wonder what I would've thought of that storyline if that scene had been omitted. There's another nice scene where Allen finally realizes that the girls he calls on the phone and more notably Helen, are never going to accept him or find him appealing and that his other neighbor, Kristina will. So he goes to her apartment and lies down with her; Allen on top of the blankets, she underneath. It's a nod to the fact that neither of them really like the physical act of sex. Allen gets off on being distanced from his objects of desire (his penchant for using the phone) and Kristina has been raped, so neither will she find sex an appealing activity. They're perfect for each other - awkward and perfect.
So as much as people want to condemn Todd Solondz for making "Happiness", I'd rather applaud him. Why? Because these sorts of people do exist. Who knows what goes on when people lock their doors and pull their curtains at night. People have all sorts of perversions and turn ons, whether you're a doctor, living in the 'burbs or a regular guy, living in an apartment. Some of our turn ons are fairly run of the mill, but behind a lot of locked doors there are a real sickos: pedophiles, rapists and the like; and then there's guy's like Allen, a little odd, but for the most part, harmless. So thank you Todd Solondz for not shying away from this sort of subject matter and facing it and even more so for being able to find a little humor in it and even more so for adding those few classy touches, in a film that really has no place being classy. For people who say they don't like this movie, but secretly do, I understand. For people who say they don't like this movie and mean it, I don't understand. I'll certainly NEVER bash anyone's personal opinion, but I do apologize if you're offended by "Happiness". I apologize if every film can't be roses & puppy dogs and I apologize that as long as there are directors like Todd Solondz, there will be filmmakers who aren't afraid to grab reality by the horns and show us what's really going on.