Se­lected Cine­mas

HAS THERE ever been a satire more be­witch­ing, a dis­in­te­grat­ing re­la­tion­ship more cap­ti­vat­ing, and a film as beau­ti­ful as it is in­tel­li­gent? Jean-Luc Go­dard’s mas­ter­piece, Le Mépris (Con­tempt) is as rel­e­vant to­day as it was in 1963 and the BFI re-release, which is in se­lected cine­mas now and her­alds a Go­dard sea­son on the South Bank, brings much-needed colour and sen­su­al­ity to this drabbest of months.

It re­minds us, too, of Go­dard’s unique abil­ity to use im­agery, even more than words, to fash­ion a story that re­veals as much about his own sen­si­bil­i­ties as it does the prej­u­dices of his au­di­ence.

Le Mépris cen­tres on an aloof Parisian scriptwriter (Michel Pic­coli) who is sum­moned to a crum­bling Rome by a tyran­ni­cal Amer­i­can film pro­ducer (a ter­rific Jack Palance) who wants more bang for his bucks.

The film he’s in­vested in heav­ily, a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, is be­ing di­rected by a con­fronta­tional Fritz Lang (play­ing him­self) who re­fuses to bow to Palance’s baser whims (he wants more mer­maids, less gods) and aban­don his classi- cal ideals for a more pop­ulist tone. Thus, the young ide­al­ist is torn be­tween two veter­ans he ad­mires — one for his prin­ci­ples, the other for his pocket.

The screen­writer’s moral strug­gle is mir­rored by the floun­der­ing re­la­tion­ship he has with his new wife, Brigitte Bar­dot.

She spends a re­mark­able amount of time in this film naked, ap­par­ently at the be­hest of Go­dard’s pro­duc­ers — the art-im­i­tat­ing-lifeim­i­tat­ing-art strug­gle at the heart of this pic­ture.

Bar­dot re­gards Pic­coli with con­tempt for flirt­ing be­tween the two while ap­par­ently al­low­ing Palance to make moves on her.

In fact, all four are con­temp­tu­ous of each other and Go­dard rev­els in ma­nip­u­lat­ing the au­di­ence to see each with sym­pa­thy, con­tempt and then back again. All of it viewed through the un­real prism of a myth­mak­ing movie set in which noth­ing is real and ev­ery­one is as shal­low as the next per­son.

Per­haps the most in­trigu­ing of Go­dard’s al­le­gories lies in the film’s beauty. It is rav­ish­ing to look at, the colours so vivid, yet the key sets are faded around the edges, as if at the mercy of the el­e­ments. The Gods, even.

Ev­ery­thing man-made — and that in­cludes Bar­dot — looks al­lur­ing only on the sur­face, its im­per­ma­nence echo­ing Go­dard’s cen­tral con­ceit that van­ity dooms our ef­forts to con­nect mean­ing­fully and truth­fully with each other. You don’t get that in a galaxy far, far away…

Oliver The­atre

THE CRIT­ICS have been a bit down on this new mu­si­cal with big rep­u­ta­tions at­tached. It’s a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Blur’s Da­mon Al­barn, cel­e­brated writer Moira Buffini and the Na­tional’s newish artis­tic di­rec­tor Ru­fus Nor­ris. They were down on it when the show first ap­peared at the Manch­ester In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val ear­lier this year, and again in this re­worked version at the Na­tional.

I didn’t see the first out­ing but, on the ev­i­dence of the sec­ond, and of the re­sponse of the largely teenage au­di­ence, won­der. land, which remoulds Lewis Car­roll’s Alice in Won­der­land for the in­ter­net age, is do­ing a lot right.

Its hero­ine is bul­lied school girl, Aly, who es­capes from her tor­men­tors not by fol­low­ing a white bunny down a hole, but by im­mers­ing her­self in an on­line game. It’s not ex­actly an in­spired idea. But there is much clev­er­ness in the way Nor­ris’s pro­duc­tion si­mul­ta­ne­ously stages Aly’s par­al­lel in­ter­net and re­al­world lives. The ac­tion takes place in front of and be­hind huge pro­jec­tions of Aly’s com­puter game. This is not the first at­tempt to rep­re­sent the in­ter­net on stage. But there is a gen­uine sense here that the­atre’s at­tempt to deal with this sub­ject has at last come of age. Pre­vi­ously, plays treated it as if it were a mi­nor­ity sport — or as if au­di­ences were be­lat­edly be­ing in­tro­duced to a fu­ture that had al­ready ar­rived. But this pro­duc­tion feels ut­terly of the present.

Aly’s rites-of-pas­sage jour­ney, and her en­counter with her school’s spe­cial-mea­sures Head­mistress — an off-the-shelf Cruella de Vil type — may not be as thrilling as, say, the jour­ney in that other mu­si­cal adap­ta­tion of a clas­sic, Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Nor, com­pared to that show, does Al­barn’s mu­sic, though evoca­tive and in­ven­tive, quite set this one alight in the way Tim Mitchins’s score does.

But won­ is par­tic­u­larly good as show­ing the ex­tent to which the web has been ab­sorbed by our real lives — and the other way round. Aly’s bul­lies make her dig­i­tal life as mis­er­able as they do in the flesh. And in that sense the show works su­perbly well as a kind of emo­tional roadmap for young peo­ple who have to grow up Ab­sorb­ing: Blur’s front­man Da­mon Al­barn has cre­ated won­ in vir­tual, home and school lives. No gen­er­a­tion has ever had that kind of pres­sure be­fore. And when Aly, a win­ning Lois Chim­imba, is treated cru­elly by her peers, the re­sponse from the char­ac­ters’ real-life coun­ter­parts in the au­di­ence filled the air with dis­ap­proval. And then ap­proval, when Aly fights back. Which is the best kind of crit­i­cal re­sponse the show’s cre­ators could have hoped for.


Stun­ning: Brigitte Bar­dot stars in Jean-Luc God­dard’s Le Mépris

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