Le Mépris: dreaming of the Italian summer

Wouldn’t surprise us at all if Paromita was born in a movie theater. Her first light definitely must have come out of a projector. She’s living in New Delhi and every now and then she’ll take us by the hand, into the movies as well as down Indian roads.

Title: Le Mépris
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Year: 1963

1963 was a big year. It was the year US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech, Hurricane Flora took over the Caribbean, The Soviet Union launched the Vostok 6 spacecraft carrying Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to enter space, ZIP Codes were implemented in the US, and Beatlemania took over the world after the release of “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Meet the Beatles!” In the same year, an ordinary thirty-three-year-old man made a very simple film which went on to become "the greatest work of art produced in post-war Europe". That man is the auteur Jean-Luc Godard, and that film is none other than Le Mépris.

Le Mépris is a unique film in the sense that it seems to be telling four stories at the same time. One; the story of personal conflict between Paul and his wife Camille. Two; the story of adaptation. The film, Godard’s adaptation of the Italian novel Il Disprezzo (A Ghost at Noon) by Alberto Moravia, anticipates Fritz Lang’s struggle within the film itself to adapt Homer’s The Odyssey. Three; the story of film production, the history of which is itself controversial. Finally four; the story of an artist’s struggle, specifically seen through the character of Paul, a young French playwright who abandons the theatre for a life as a scriptwriter to earn more money. This aspect of the artist’s struggle is once again emphasised through the presence of Fritz Lang, the movie’s alter ego of Godard himself.

The other thing that I find unique about this film is the divide between the visual and the sensory. Visually, i.e. simply in terms of what appears on the screen, the film is stunning. It paints a rosy picture of a group of aesthetes in the pleasant and idyllic setting of Italy. They are all artists and they are all lovers trying to conjoin the two together. Brigitte Bardot especially contributes to this arrangement as her beauty compliments that of the Italian summer.

In fact, I will always aspire to live the way does Brigitte Bardot when tanning herself in the Casa Malaparte on Capri island. I don’t know when I will experience that in my life but I did come close to it last winter. I had gone to my dad’s family home which is in a small town in India that is surrounded by hills on all sides. Despite it being very cold there was great sun during the day, and, of course, I would spend all my mornings tanning myself. Actually, there is something truly special about the winter sun, its piercing warmth is so comforting and homely.

I think the experience was more significant because it was in my dad's childhood home and everything there has some memories attached to it. Even for me it's a house of memories, I have been coming here for over twenty years and every corner and every crevice has some story attached to it. Even the things that no longer exist have memories growing in the gaps they have left behind: for example, the giant mango tree which we had to cut down many years ago. That part of our garden is now vacant apart from a few shrubs here and there. All that exists there now are memories; of me and my sister playing under that giant tree, of the sweet taste of those mangoes, of my dad chasing young school boys who stole our fruit, and of my tears flowing like a stream the day that tree was cut down. All these memories add a distinct sensory appeal to my visits there.

Bardot too, in the film, is a slave to her senses which is why, when she perceives that Paul is trying to trade her for a film contract, she develops a contempt for him. In the film, all the characters are trying to integrate this gap between the visual and the sensory – be it through the adaptation of The Odyssey or the attempt to form new relationships while simultaneously holding on to old ones. However, they all fail. Unlike them, I, however, managed to merge the two together by finding satisfaction in my self-created land of wonder. Ever since I have known of its existence, I have longed to experience an Italian summer. I love how romantically it is shown in books and films; people lazing around pools, sometimes napping, sometimes reading a book, all while sipping icy drinks. I hope to experience it all one day, but until then the summer I've been describing here is my very own Italian one, which is made even more special by the memories.

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