ⓘ Contempt (film)

Contempt (film)

ⓘ Contempt (film)

Contempt is a 1963 French-Italian New Wave drama film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, based on the Italian novel Il disprezzo by Alberto Moravia. It stars Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, and Giorgia Moll.


1. Plot

Paul Javal Michel Piccoli, a young French playwright who has found commercial success in Rome, accepts an offer from vulgar American producer Jeremy Prokosch Jack Palance to rework the script for German director Fritz Langs screen adaptation of the Odyssey.

Pauls wife, Camille Javal Brigitte Bardot, joins him on the first day of the project at Cinecittà. As the first discussions are completed, Prokosch invites the crew to join him at his villa, offering Camille a ride in his two-seat sportscar. Camille looks to Paul to decline the offer, but he submissively withdraws to follow by taxi, leaving Camille and Prokosch alone. Paul does not catch up with them until 30 minutes later, explaining that he was delayed by a traffic accident. Camille grows uneasy, secretly doubting his honesty and suspecting that he is using her to cement his ties with Prokosch. The feelings of doubt are heightened when she sees him exchange familiarities with Prokoschs secretary, Francesca. Back at their apartment, Paul and Camille discuss the subtle uneasiness that has come between them in the first few hours of the project, and Camille suddenly announces to her bewildered husband that she no longer loves him.

Hoping to rekindle Camilles love, Paul convinces her to accept Prokoschs invitation to join them for filming in Capri. Prokosch and Lang are locked in a conflict over the correct interpretation of Homers work, an impasse exacerbated by the difficulty of communication between the German director, French script writer, and American producer. Francesca acts as interpreter, mediating all conversations. When Paul sides with Prokosch against Lang by suggesting that Odysseus actually left home because of his wifes infidelity, Camilles suspicions of her husbands servility are confirmed. She deliberately allows him to find her in Prokoschs embrace, and in the ensuing confrontation she declares that her respect for him has turned to contempt because he has bartered her to Prokosch. He denies this accusation, offering to sever his connection with the film and leave Capri; but she will not recant and leaves for Rome with the producer. After an auto crash in which Camille and Prokosch are killed, Paul prepares to leave Capri and return to the theater. Lang continues to work on the film.


2. Cast

  • Brigitte Bardot as Camille Javal
  • Giorgia Moll as Francesca Vanini
  • Michel Piccoli as Paul Javal
  • Jean-Luc Godard as Langs assistant director
  • Fritz Lang as himself
  • Raoul Coutard as the cameraman
  • Jack Palance as Jeremy Prokosch
  • Linda Veras as a Siren

3. Production

Italian film producer Carlo Ponti approached Godard to discuss a possible collaboration; Godard suggested an adaptation of Moravias novel Il disprezzo originally translated into English with the title A Ghost at Noon in which he saw Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra as the leads; they refused. Ponti suggested Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, whom Godard refused. Anna Karina by then Godards former wife later revealed that the director had traveled to Rome to ask Monica Vitti if she would portray the female lead. However the Italian actress reportedly turned up an hour late, "staring out the window like she wasnt interested at all". Finally, Bardot was chosen because of the producers insistence that the profits might be increased by displaying her famously sensual body. This provided the films opening scene, filmed by Godard as a typical mockery of the cinema business with tame nudity. The scene was shot after Godard considered the film finished, at the insistence of the American co-producers. In the film, Godard cast himself as Langs assistant director, and characteristically has Lang expound many of Godards New Wave theories and opinions. Godard also employed the two "forgotten" New Wave filmmakers, Luc Moullet and Jacques Rozier, on the film. Bardot visibly reads a book about Fritz Lang that was written by Moullet, and Rozier made the documentary short about the making of the film Le Parti des Choses.

Godard admitted to changing the original novel, "but with full permission" of Moravia, the original writer. Among his changes were focusing the action to only a few days and changing the writer character from being "silly and soft. Ive made him more American - something like a Humphrey Bogart type."


3.1. Production Filming

Contempt was filmed in Italy where it is set, with location shooting at the Cinecittà studios in Rome and the Casa Malaparte on Capri island. In a sequence, the characters played by Piccoli and Bardot wander through their apartment alternately arguing and reconciling. Godard filmed the scene as an extended series of tracking shots, in natural light and in near real-time. The cinematographer Raoul Coutard shot some of the other nouvelle vague films, including Godards Breathless 1960. According to Jonathan Rosenbaum, Godard was also directly influenced by Jean-Daniel Pollet and Volker Schlondorffs Mediterranee, released earlier the same year.

Godard admitted his tendency to get actors to improvise dialogue "during the peak moment of creation" often baffled them. "They often feel useless," he said. "Yet they bring me a lot. I need them, just as I need the pulse and colours of real settings for atmosphere and creation."


3.2. Production Critical reception

The film received universal acclaim from critics. The Rotten Tomatoes website reported 94% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 52 reviews, with an average score of 8.7/10. The critical consensus is: "This powerful work of essential cinema joins meta with physique, casting Brigitte Bardot and director Godards inspiration Fritz Lang."

According to Sight & Sound critic Colin MacCabe, Contempt was "the greatest work of art produced in postwar Europe."

Bosley Crowther in The New York Times called the film "luxuriant" but said the director "could put his talents to more intelligent and illuminating use"; according to Crowther, who is unclear about the motivations of the main characters, "Mr. Godard has attempted to make this film communicate a sense of the alienation of individuals in this complex modern world. And he has clearly directed to get a tempo that suggests irritation and ennui."


4. Legacy

Antoine de Gaudemar made a one-hour documentary in 2009 about Contempt, Il etait une fois. Le Mepris A Film and Its Era: Contempt which incorporated footage from Jacques Roziers earlier documentaries Paparazzi 1963, Le Parti des Choses 1964, and Andre S. Labarthes Le dinosaure et le bebe 1967.

The extended apartment sequence that occurs in the film, where Paul and Camilles marriage unfolds, has been praised by critics and scholars. In February 2012, Interiors, an online journal that is concerned with the relationship between architecture and film, released an issue that discussed how space is used in this scene. The issue highlights how Jean-Luc Godard uses this constricted space to explore Paul and Camilles declining relationship.

The song, "Theme de Camille", which was originally composed for Contempt, is used as a main theme in the 1995 film Casino.

A still from the film was used as the official poster for the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.