Desire, in Blue and Orange
We talk about Jean Luc Godard’s film Contempt, the Casa Malaparte and the desiring shades of blue and orange that permeate them. These imaginations seize the heart so profoundly that they become so much the aesthetic foundations for the debut collection.
“Camille…I feel as if I’m looking at you for the first time”.
Camille is laying bare in receival of the splendid sun on the Casa Malaparte’s roof patio. She looks up at Paul and offers a non-response to him. This is a scene which happens close to the climactic end of the film, Contempt (1963). Paul speaks here to Camille as if she is an embodiment of what life is and how we feel as we stand in the moment to contemplate it - both in wonder of its irrevocable beauty yet finding it ever so hard to penetrate past what is at the same time, dense and complex beauty as we search to grasp its understanding. We speak to and about life within our art and poetry, maybe to coax from it revelation but life just shrugs its indifference to us.
The particular impression here follows the overarching tone of the film where the banal and sublime - in nature and thought -intertwine with one another. Constructed is a narrative that spurs greater consideration than to just be a mere spectator to the depicted dissolution of a dear marriage between Paul and Camille where each professes a total, tender and tragic love for the other. It happens alongside to the larger more critical construction of a film within a film, as Paul is employed to inflect a more commercial presentation to the current interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey by Fritz Lang who plays as himself. An interpretation too static and opaque for the tastes of Jack Palance’s character, Prokosch, an American film producer. The contemplations to do with cinema here as deconstructed through this latter narrative is rooted in the epigraph of the film, plucking from Bazin his belief about its nature; that cinema ‘substitutes for our gaze, a world more in harmony with our desires’. One should consider it rather ambiguous as from the perspective this statement takes, to whose desires it speaks of. This becomes one of the central focuses to be explored within the film.
So in paradox with Bazin’s proclamation, which we might have readily accepted, Godard’s film frustrates many a desire from the perspectives of ourselves as audience, Fritz as director, Paul as screenwriter and Prokosch as producer. From our intuitive needs for the conflict between Paul and Camille to recover, which it never does - to profess love tragically tints the film with an ominous shade to begin with. For Camille, to rationally speak to Paul and by extension us, about her sudden reversal in feelings for Paul. And finally, in the frustrations of the three central men to produce a film that fits the vision of cinema that they desire.
However, Godard frustrates us not in his stylistic gestures and intuitions to tell us this story - there is beautiful mastery of colour and setting as we are treated to cinematic scenes that are as splendid as the impenetrable Camille.
Primary colours recur throughout the film; the tension of one particularly demanding scene between Paul and Camille, heightened in intensity by strong flashes of brilliant red-orange and blue opposed against the starkly reduced white-walled apartment. The scene demands we give focus to the way Camille pushes and pulls with Paul, searching for the psychology behind her contempt; but we may be tempted to take a pause from narrative and wander the eyes around the apartment. Slip into the living space through a door without a panel that challenges its conventional notions - Paul moves through this entry-exit point in both ways. The (living space) area is large; white walls are unadorned, two wide shags of sheepskin rug lay on the wooden parquet flooring to widen expand the sensation of white; punctuating this humble space are those angular blue chairs and a red-orange sofa. In between, there are other touches of charming quirks like the door with a cut-out panel which Paul moves between in both possible manners and the lonesome bronze statue almost like a shy witness to the domestic row.
Later, the film settles for the remainder of time in Capri, Italy. Here, Godard does not stray away from visions of blue and orange in the sea and the Casa Malaparte. The Casa Malaparte is a monumental work of architecture which was once the house of Italian writer, Curzio Malaparte, conceived by him to be just as he was; the orange form extends from beyond the natural landscape it was placed upon. Its angular slope, a tapering flight of stairs, leads to the esplanade which bears witness to sea and horizon. The interior designer, Steven Volpe, recalls of his private invitation to the Casa Malaparte and speaks of in it in such terms, “up there it was dream-like, you feel like you’re in heaven.” Being as it was where we began with Paul’s declaration to Camille of first times, one can certainly empathize.
In these moments, frustrations fades and truly then, Godard is gracious in fashioning for us a world in harmony with our desires.