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56 Contempt 
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Post Re: 56 Contempt
Le Mepris/Contempt (1963)

You know, I keep hearing that Jean-Luc Godard's films are cold and lifeless (and those are the kind criticisms). I hear this from lots of folks including those people whose opinions I respect and often agree with. They're probably right about the director but I I keep waiting to share their reaction. Le Mepris/Contempt is far from a cold film and is certainly a great one.

In Contempt, writer Paul Javal is happily married to the very gorgeous Brigitte Bardot. Novels and plays are his things, but they don't pay the bills (apartment mortgage!) so he dabbles a bit in cinema. Eventually he's hired by an American producer (Jack Palance!) to re-write an adaptation of Homer's Odyssey and make it into a more commercial picture (with a little sex in it) than the art film his director Fritz Lang (played by Fritz Lang!!) wants to direct.

So at the basic level we have here is a struggle of art vs. commercialism. But there's more. The major parts of the story involve the contempt that grows within Bardot towards her husband. They're very much in love at the start but as he sells himself she slowly becomes disenchanted. This is mostly because of his willingness to leave her alone with Palance's character who is a lecherous playboy. It grows from there. She's annoyed and he doesn't know why. This adds to her annoyance. She gets more annoyed as he continues to (wrongly) guess why. And she grows even more annoyed when she's forgiven him but he doesn't think she has and continues to insist that she hates him for differing reasons. It's a great example of how quickly a relationship can break down.

Finally, it's all very meta. Supposedly, the American producers of the film were unhappy with the final treatment (not enough sex in it) and made Godard spice it up. Reports also indicate that the film's relationship breakdown intentionally mirrors Godard's own relationship with partner and frequent leading actress Anna Karina at the time.

Contempt is really what a great film should be. Enjoyable at a superficial level but even more rewarding when you put in a little thought. I have minor criticisms with the movie's pacing but feel those might go away on a second viewing. A very high 8/10 which I might shift up a point on rewatching.


Tue Aug 23, 2011 10:38 pm
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