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…
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 wonder.land 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 wonder.land 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