Tuesday, 18 October 2016

I've Just Seen: Contempt (Le Mepris) (1963)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Well, I didn't think it would happen, but I have managed to find a Godard film that I enjoyed; or at least one that didn't leave me feeling completely alienated. Perhaps it's because this is the most conventional film of Godard's I have seen to date. While some things are not explained, the narrative is largely linear, and the editing and shot selections are not as arty, allowing one to get into the story and the characters. The film revolves around a production of Homer's Odyssey to be filmed by legendary director Fritz Lang (played by the actual Lang, maker of Metropolis and M). Michel Piccoli's Paul Javal is asked by Jack Palance's American producer to rewrite the script; he thinks things are getting too arty.

At Contempt's centre lies the mystery of Paul's wife Camille sudden aloofness to her husband. This part of the story could be frustrating, and there are several long scenes where Paul tries to discover the cause of Camille's 'contempt', but she herself can't articulate it (or doesn't want to). I liked that it remained unexplained, as many times one feels emotions, particularly negative ones, for reasons unknown. They may have no cause, or the cause would become negligible if spoken aloud, yet the emotion would still be there.

The rest of the film is a rather wry look at film production, with Jack Palance stealing all of his scenes as the sleazy, uncouth producer Jeremy Prokosch. There is also a lot of Bardot (though less of her clothes), and she is good as maintaining the underlying anger at Paul throughout the film. The third act was when I began to lose some patience with the film, and the ending is a shock. Sadly it feels like Godard didn't know how to finish the story, so just ends it brutally.

I have not be cured of my frustrations with Godard, but this film, about aloofness and contempt, made me feel less so towards its maker. Go figure.


  1. I'm glad to see that I am not alone in my indifference to Godard. Albeit I have not seen a great deal of his work but most that I have has left me frustrated with its opaqueness. Perhaps it's me and I'm just more comfortable with a more linear approach than is his style.

    But I did like this film, which I just saw within the last couple of months on the suggestion of a friend. Palance did consume all the air in his scenes but then he did that often, I was more impressed with Bardot. Again I haven't seen the majority of her work and what I have never really placed great demands on her but this asked more than any of those others and she delivered well.

    I won't be running back to watch it again any time soon but it was enjoyable and a beautiful looking film as well.

    1. Completely agree. It's not that I don't like arty films, I do, but something about his just leave me cold. I can appreciate the impact his style had on cinema, but I find it hard to connect to his characters and stories.

      I think the mystery at Contempt's heart is what kept me interested, while a lot of his other films don't have the same sense of mystery under their opaqueness.

  2. That long, tedious and almost childish discussion between Paul and Camille annoyed me tremendously. Is it not just a cliché on how men and women do not understand each other? they both look incredibly immature here and that is basically down to Godard.
    Godard can and will ruin anything he gets his hands on, even with all the great stuff he has available here.

    1. I didn't mind it too much; people can be childish in relationships (though it is not always fun to watch).

      But in general I agree with you on Godard. He certainly saw women as almost a different and unknowable group. And he does enjoy frustrating his audience. I did like this better than any other of his films, but that is a pretty low bar. And the ending is such a cop-out. It isn't even surprising, just felt like he didn't know how to resolve anything so just did something easy.