- Godard at the peak of his powers. Astoundingly, this is Godard’s sixth film—all since his debut in 1960 of course. This is Godard’s second film in color with the wider format (after A Woman is a Woman), his largest budget, and biggest financial success (which he could not have cared less about probably- haha)
- CinemaScope process, aspect ratio 2.35 : 1
- Narrator speaks the credits, starts with showing the director of photography Raoul Coutard (who worked on all of Godard’s important films) tracking along and a Bazin quote
- After that it opens with a nude, bottoms up Brigitte Bardot—red, blue, and yellow colored tinting within the same shot—
- The film is draped in Georges Delerue’s “Theme de Camille” music as much as it is the coloring. It is a wonderous piece of music. And Godard’s overpowering use of it is intentional—pointing out the power of it, often overshadowing the dialogue. He uses it like no other director would. Scorsese would use the same piece of music in Casino but it was made for Contempt.
- The film is about many things including the dissection of a marriage. Michel Piccoli is married to Bardot—and ego incarnate, rich American film producer played by Jack Palance comes in between.
- Palance’s character is both horrifying and hilarious at the same time. “I like gods, I know exactly how they feel”- haha. He has this hysterically small tiny quote book, and he perks up and giggles when there is a naked mermaid in the daily rushes. This is a satire on some level (there are many layers).
- A brilliant dedication to the colors in the production design. Palance has the red Alfa Romeo, there’s a yellow Hatari! poster, Bardot in blue… like most of his films Godard references his past work- a massive beautiful Vivre Sa Vie poster
- Speaking of Lang, there’s a sort of Faustian morality play going on here with Fritz Lang (the director in the film) playing the good angel to Piccoli—Palance is the devil – and in many ways the fallout of the marriage is what happens when you sell your soul
- Referential—Piccoli’s character in this wrote Bigger Than Life from Nicolas Ray, Rio Bravo is referenced, Dean Martin with Some Came Running
- their towels are primary colors except for the white one that Piccoli’s character wears as a sort of toga (again tying him to the Greeks). At 45-minutes Godard shoots him through two white doorways—white flowers on the front left of the frame. I can’t tell if Godard is influenced by Antonioni, mocking him, or both. Often the characters are just two bodies in the frame posing in these gorgeous compositions
- It is strange how Truffaut admires both Godard and Hitchcock. Hitchcock is so exacting—storyboarding it all- a perfectionist. Godard is often the opposite. You get the feeling that he could have made Contempt 100 times and it would have been drastically different every time. The film is made up of random heavy music drops, Godard playing on the off-beat so to speak.
- At the 56-minute mark, Bardot on the white rug in a cutaway. This is Bergman (who was not a big admirer of Godard)- Scenes From a Marriage or Antonioni and two lovers inability to connect—there is sex, jealousy, lies—a deconstruction of their marriage. Godard nods at Rossellini’s Journey to Italy. Godard is always the intellectual- way more about the head than the heart—but this analysis of a moment in their marriage is potent. Godard uses jump cut flashbacks with dueling voice-overs unique to their point of view from Piccoli and Bardot
- Their apartment is comprised of these bare white rooms, cans of paint lying around – Godard likes this blank canvas so he can splash his primary colors… artifice again- stepping through a door—von Trier would take this further in Dogville of course (with none of the beauty)
- There is a variation on that tennis match shot at the theater later as Godard’s camera captures them now on separate sides of the aisle—structures between like L’Eclisse (Antonioni, 1962). Either Antonioni’s film or Journey to Italy would make for a great companion
- Comparisons of Nazis and Hollywood producers. Later Brecht’s quote on Hollywood. Godard is angry.
- A Masterpiece
Godard originally wanted Monica Vitti to play the Bardot role, and he met with her in Rome I think to discuss it during which she completely ignored him. So clearly he was probably an admirer of Antonioni but knowing him he was probably mocking him anyway for Godard-knows-what.
@Zane – Just watched Red Desert again recently, Monica Vitti would have been perfect in this film, not that I have a problem Brigitte Bardot’s performance.
Agreed; my preconception of her was mostly that she was “hot stuff” used to guarantee a film financially but after watching this one I’ll argue with anyone that says she can’t act.
@Drake- Did you you know that when Godard showed his film A Married Woman(1964) at the Venice Film Festival Antonioni was also there as Red Desert was also being shown in competition. And after Antonioni saw Godard’s film he went up to Godard after the screening and congratulated him.
Is this a different movie with Belmondo playing the Piccoli character?
Piccoli plays the role quite a bit more passive than I’m used to seeing in most of Belmondo’s roles.
I’m not complaining about Piccoli by the way but I think it’s interesting to ponder the question.
@James Trapp- I think it is, don’t you? Piccoli and Belmondo are both superb- but very different. Belmondo, for better or worse, seems to have a smirk of indifference that I don’t think would’ve fit what Piccoli achieved here and what Godard was going for. On the flip side, you put Piccoli in Breathless and I think we’re talking about a much different (and lesser) movie as well.
@Drake – agreed, I don’t think Piccoli would work in Breathless or in Pierrot le Fou. The middle section of the film had some similarities to Breathless which is what got me thinking about Belmondo playing the role.
I would have loved to see Sterling Hayden in the Jack Palance role. Hayden could play bizarre megalomaniacal characters a la Dr. Strangelove. Lee J. Cobb would have interesting in the role as well.
@James Trapp– interesting– like instead of Palance? I think he’s quite good. Or you just saying you’d like to see Hayden or Cobb? I can’t say I’d prefer then to Palance. I don’t think they’d pose the same level of sexual threat, right?
@Drake – I think Palance was great, I was just thinking of other actors who could have been interesting in that role but you’re probably right about Lee Cobb not posing the same threat. I love Sterling Hayden though and he could play obnoxious characters quite well and he had an imposing presence, I think he would be interesting in this role but certainly have no complaints about Palance as he was terrific
“Tennis shot” – succinct and visually descriptive, I like that. Did you come up with the term or is that actually what this type of shot is called?
@Declan- Thanks. If I didn’t come up with it I borrowed it from somewhere and forgot. And if you find the correct name for it let me know please.
So in this film, they’re making an adaptation of the Odyssey which is a film about a man going through Hell (literally) to save his marriage. But in the film all that we see is a marriage falling apart.
I also don’t think it’s super far-fetched to say that for the island at the end of the film, that while really it’s supposed to be a parody of the L’Avventura island, that it’s Ithaca from the Odyssey.