CONTEMPT (LE MEPRIS) – Review by Diane Carson

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Contempt offers Jean-Luc Godard in his French New Wave success

Iconic French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard needs no introduction, but reminders of his cinematic genius are delightful and welcome. Such is the case with the 4K restoration of his 1963 Contempt/Le Mépris, charting the unraveling of an already fragile marriage as screenwriter Paul and wife Camille circle each other guardedly, engaging and retreating.

Interfering, obnoxious film producer Jeremy Prokosch (a leering, sleazy Jack Palance) flirts with Camille (Brigitte Bardot) as husband Paul (Michel Piccoli) oscillates between writing an adaptation of The Odyssey for Prokosch. Fritz Lang, himself, will direct in Italy’s huge Cinecittà facility. Rambling, the story proceeds through three acts: in a Cinecittà screening room and Prokosch’s villa, in Paul and Camille’s Rome apartment, and at the splendid Villa Malaparte, seaside in Capri.

Events meander, with exploitation throughout of Bardot’s sex appeal. Shooting through doorways or lingering on Bardot’s body, Godard mocks filmic practice and expectations, teasing us with talk of love and murder as abusive, jealous, ambitious Paul becomes the target of Camille’s contempt. Iconoclastic, Godard reinterprets formulaic cinema and creates his own idiosyncratic technical and thematic approach.

Overscored, the music overpowers scenes with the melancholy of Georges Delerue’s compositions, communicating characters’ ennui and detachment amidst lush landscapes that collide with Greek statues and Capri’s rocky cliffs, all suggesting austere emotions. Throughout, cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio emphasizes lonely characters within vast spaces or, alternately, isolates them in close-ups. Visually, primary colors intensify backgrounds as well as costumes. Yes, it’s good to become reacquainted with Godard in this legendary film that he described as “about a woman, a man, Italy, and cinema.” Distributed by Rialto Pictures, the new 4K restoration of Contempt/Le Mépris is in French, English, Italian, and German with English subtitles.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.