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  • Silenzio! Fade Out into Blue:Notes on the Visual Presence of Absence in the Closure Frame of Le mépris
  • Ole W. Fischer (bio)

Le mépris/Contempt by Jean-Luc Godard (FR/IT, 1963) closes with a view onto the Tyrrhenian Sea from the roof of Casa Malaparte1 before fading into the misty, bluish uncertainty of the horizon line.

This definitive frame shows a detail familiar from another medium and another time: a rearview figure before the sublime backdrop of nature, the sea.

Godard and his cameraman (Figure 2), Raoul Coutard, chose a long shot of the terrace, traveling toward the sea, characterized by the unmediated contrast


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Figure 1.

Frame from Le mépris/Contempt, Jean-Luc Godard. The horizon might refer to the infinite in general, a category of the sublime following Kant, but it might be read more specifically as a reflection upon the motif of return.

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between the vague distance of the horizon and the near foreground of the back of Ulysses, a cut-out silhouette (Figure 3) of a warrior against the monochromatic blue of sea and sky that flattens out the image almost to 2d (Figures 3, 4). Considering the tradition of the rearview figure in painting, especially in the landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich from the early 19th century or Arnold Böcklin (who pictured, in "Odysseus and Calypso," the hero in rearview figure craving for home), the view onto the sea and horizon shows the transition of the two elements in the final frame (Figure 5) of Le mépris. Yet all these images address something else behind, or rather beyond: the invisible, or more precisely the depiction of the invisible—the very architectural condition of the presence of something absent from our visual world.

In Le mépris, the horizon might refer to the infinite in general, a category of the sublime following Kant, but it might be read more specifically as a reflection upon the motif of return. It is death at the end of random wandering; Ulysses is returning to the island of Ithaca.

On the other hand, the final scene argues for a return to one's vocation. The film's "survivors" return to their original piece of work: Fritz Lang, who plays a director, to his movie Ulysses, and Paul, the screenwriter, to writing a theater


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Figure 2.

Godard and his cameraman, Raoul Coutard.


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Figures 3 and 4.

A cut-out silhouette of a warrior that flattens almost to 2D.


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Figure 5.

The transition of the two elements, rearview figure and the sea, in the final frame of Le mépris.

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play. Both symbolize a return to the inner self. The motif of return might even go further beyond individual fate and scrutinize the wish for return of man to nature, the transgression and sublimation of the ego. As in architecture, the horizon exists as the vision of an unobtainable but longed-for transcendence, and its respective immanence.

If Caspar David Friedrich tried to rethink the landscape not as a mimesis of nature but rather as a process of inner experience combined with a painstaking study of nature and remembrance, reframing the natural set as the monumental image for religious contemplation, it is Jean-Luc Godard who zooms onto nature to frame a view of the invisible and question the limits of cinematic representation and storytelling. These frames formulate icons of sublime landscape and sublime modern architecture that "drop" out of the frame.

Despite the different historic contexts and ideological differences between the Romantic Friedrich, the neo-Romantic Böcklin, the early Fascist and later Communist architect Malaparte, and the neo-Marxist Godard, these approaches convene in their aim to push their respective mediums—painting, architecture, and film—beyond the point of representation and visibility. And it is not for nothing that one finds that they all use the soul's landscape, per se: the sea.

Ole W. Fischer

Dr. Ole W. Fischer studied architecture at the Bauhaus University Weimar and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-7989
Print ISSN
0306-7661
Pages
pp. 111-113
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-23
Open Access
No
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