criticism Le Mépris – Jean-Luc Godard against marriage and cinema | Jean-Luc Godard


I first saw Contempt many years ago in an impression so washed out everything was pale pink; it was like contemplating an artifact from an immeasurable past. Watching the film now, with its Mediterranean reds and blues rediscovered in all their intensity, the film is still reminiscent of a lost antiquity, not least because Jean-Luc Godard’s feature film from 1963 is so steeped in melancholy and mourning.

Apparently adapted from the novel by Alberto Moravia Contempt, the film stars Michel Piccoli as writer Paul, selling his soul to work for American producer Prokosch, played by a magnificently bossy Jack Palance. This magnate is such a monstrous philistine that he dares to rage against no less a deity than the great Fritz Lang (playing himself), whom he hired to make a film of The odyssey.

Brigitte Bardot, meanwhile, is Paul Camille’s wife, Paul’s modern-day Ulysses Penelope – but she’s also Bardot. The star’s explosive physical appeal is analyzed in an opening nude scene that was both Godard’s aid to his producers and an overt self-reflective exercise in objectifying sex symbols. It’s a Godard film, after all: BB, recalls the film, it’s both Brigitte Bardot and Bertolt Brecht.

Contempt presents some of the most imposing exteriors of 1960s cinema, shot by Raoul Coutard around the extraordinary Villa Malaparte in Capri – not so much a house, but more of a landscape installation. The centerpiece of the new BFI Southbank Godard season, Contempt is undoubtedly the only film of the director which could make you cry – in particular because of the sublime score of Georges Delerue. It’s also a great source of style advice – check out Piccoli and learn how to wear your ‘like Dean Martin’ trilby.

Watch the Contempt trailer.

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