Thursday, September 15, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard - Contempt

Continuing my week of reposting the reviews I did of the late Jean-Luc Godard's movies for the old Geekologists blog, the third movie in the bluray boxed set I was sent to review thanks to the lovely folk at STUDIOCANAL is 'Contempt'.

(Originally published January 2016)

On the 1st February 2016, STUDIOCANAL is releasing a boxed set of films by the legendary director Jean-Luc Godard on blu-ray. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reviewing the disks one at a time, and this week I turn my attentions to the third movie in the set, 1963’s “Le M├ępris”, aka “Contempt”.

The previous film, “A Woman is a Woman” was Godard embracing colour and cinemascope in a tale of woman wanting a child, and the conflict with her partner over that.

In stark contrast, “Contempt” tackles another couple falling out, but instead of the playful fun of the previous film, we’re presented with the harsh frustrations of a couple failing to communicate. Failed playwright Paul (Michel Piccoli) is hired to rewrite a movie of The Odyssey, currently being filmed by the one and only Fritz Lang (played by himself). Paul brings his wife, former typist Camille (the legendary Brigitte Bardot), who catches the eye of the film’s producer, Prokosch (Jack Palance). 

Prokosch wants to make the movie more of an action Hollywood movie, but Lang wants to make an art film. However, when Paul allows Prokosch to drive his wife home, Camille changes. Thinking Paul has offered her up as some form of payment to get his job on the film, she finds Paul utterly contemptible (hence the title of the film) and their relationship breaks down.

The whole film can be read on many levels. It could be that the lead characters are mirroring the Odyssey, with Paul and Prokosch as Odysseus and Poseidon, and it can also be taken as a mirror of real life (with Paul as Godard, Camille as Godard’s wife, Anna Karina). The parallels between the movie and the making of the movie is also seen in the way that the producers want a big budget Hollywood movie, demanding more action and nudity, when Godard wanted to make art. The opening shot of Brigitte Bardot’s naked (but not explicit) body was not in the version Godard wanted to make, but the producers insisted, claiming he couldn’t make a film with Bardot without a nude scene.

The film itself is gorgeous as you’d expect. Filled with colour, beauty and lush cinematography. In fact, the cinemascopic widescreen is utilised in true Godard fashion for a protracted argument scene. In “A Woman is a Woman”, and to some extent, “Breathless” before it, Godard had a lengthy apartment scene, letting the characters communicate their feelings, their motivations, and argue. In “A Woman is a Woman” this argument was fun, witty and clever, with a humorous take by using book titles to express their words when they were not talking to each other. In “Contempt” words are the characters downfall, and the widescreen pans slowly between the characters, often in different rooms, emphasising the distance growing between them. 

Like “A Woman is a Woman”, I’d not seen this one before, and it is heralded as a masterpiece of cinema. The film is gorgeous, looks fantastic, and is beautifully made. But the film isn’t a happy watch, filled with frustrations, lack of communications that ultimately ends in tragedy. Godard was making a big budget Hollywood-esque film, with most of the budget being spent on one of the biggest actresses at the time. Godard was intrigued about making a big budget movie, and this really wasn’t one he enjoyed. After this, he’d go back to the movies he enjoyed making.

The blu-ray is simply gorgeous, with a marvellous and pristine presentation, keeping the beautiful colour. Included on the disk is an introduction, as well as two hour long documentaries (“Once upon a time there was… Contempt” and “The dinosaurs and the baby” - a discussion between Godard and Fritz Lang) and a half hour making-off “Contempt-Tenderly”, as well as a conversation with Fritz Lang and a trailer (that blows the ending of the film, so don’t watch it first!)

Definitely worth watching, but not as much fun as “A Woman is a Woman”. 

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