"Contempt" (1963) is a movie that has lots to say, but very little interest in communication. It's like an angry child who could get what he wants if he agrees to stop pouting and talk it out. The film is pure arrogance and, well, contempt. For what? Hollywood, Americana, film dogma, storytelling, authority, and anything else you've got to offer.
It's not easy to enjoy, though it has its moments. The second act, during which the film's couple argue in their apartment, is pretty fascinating. The camerawork during this 30-minute scene is interesting enough on its own, but the dialog is what stands out. The seemingly happy couple are suddenly headed straight for divorce, and we're never really told why, though we have a few hints to go on. The way Godard's actors play the scene is wonderful, with a perfect degree of subtly and artificial detachment. The rest of the film is mostly unengaging and confusing. We're never sure what it is Godard is trying to say, if anything. Acts one and three of the film feel aimless, yet always on the verge of something special. Funny enough, I think Godard would agree with me on these points.
"Breathless" (1960) is completely uninterested in impressing its audience. It is the epitome of self-indulgence, of self-obsession, of even solipsism. And the exact same things can be said of the characters. No one listens to anyone else, only to themselves. Michel at one point acknowledges this, saying, "When we talked, I talked about me, you talked about you, when we should have talked about each other." It reminds me of the Kurt Cobain lyric, "I don't care what you think unless it is about me." Appropriately, the name of that song is "Drain You," and that's exactly what the characters in this film do to each other.
The dialog is fascinating. No one talks to communicate anything. No one shares information we need to understand the story. It's best described as stream of consciousness blabber, ripe with non sequiturs. But, unlike a Tarantino film, you don't get the impression the dialog is meant to impress us with its sheer aimlessness. It's just completely authentic and honest, and uninterested in serving a purpose. And that's what is so fascinating about this film: how real these people are in front of us, how they just exist. You certainly feel like a fly on the wall, especially in Patricia's bedroom, listening to a naive young couple interact.
The film's tone and structure is just as scatterbrained. One minute it's a genre film about a killer on the run (complete with the appropriate score) and the next it's a character study about young lovers. It's genre fusion, without trying to be.
Bottom-line: It reminds you that the world in which a film exists doesn't have to be separate than the real world. That fascinating fiction can still live and breathe in reality. It's 90 minutes of hanging out with fascinating and beautiful people, with a filmmaker who demands that you meet him on his terms, with a tone and structure that is utterly unique and perfectly rough. I loved it.