A philistine in the art film business, Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) is a producer unhappy with the work of his director. Prokosch has hired Fritz Lang (as himself) to direct an adaptation of "The Odyssey," but when it seems that the legendary filmmaker is making a picture destined to bomb at the box office, he brings in a screenwriter (Michel Piccoli) to energize the script. The professional intersects with the personal when a rift develops between the writer and his wife (Brigitte Bardot).
Contempt (French: ) is a 1963 French satirical drama film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, based on the Italian novel A Ghost at Noon by Alberto Moravia. It stars Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, and Giorgia Moll.
Today, Contempt is generally regarded as a masterpiece of world cinema.
Screenwriter Paul Javal's marriage to his wife Camille disintegrates during a film production as she spends time with its producer.
American film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) hires respected Austrian director Fritz Lang (playing himself) to direct a film adaptation of Homers Odyssey. Dissatisfied with Langs treatment of the material as an art film, Prokosch hires Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli), a novelist and playwright, to rework the script. The conflict between artistic expression and commercial opportunity parallels Pauls sudden estrangement from his wife Camille Javal (Brigitte Bardot), who becomes aloof with Paul after he leaves her alone with Prokosch, a millionaire playboy.
While founded on Alberto Moravias story of the progressive estrangement between a husband and wife, Godards version also contains deliberate parallels with aspects of his own life: while Paul, Camille, and Prokosch correspond to Ulysses, Penelope, and Poseidon, respectively, they also correspond in some ways with Godard, his wife Anna Karina (his choice of female lead), and Joseph E. Levine, the films distributor. At one point Bardot dons a black wig, which gives her a resemblance to Karina. Michel Piccoli also bears some resemblance to Brigitte Bardots ex-husband, the filmmaker Roger Vadim.
Also notable in the film is a discussion of Dante – particularly Canto XXVI of Inferno, about Odysseus last fatal voyage beyond the Pillars of Hercules to the other side of the world – and Friedrich Holderlins poem, "Dichterberuf" ("The Poets Vocation").Brigitte Bardot as Camille Javal
Michel Piccoli as Paul Javal
Jack Palance as Jeremy Prokosch
Giorgia Moll as Francesca Vanini
Fritz Lang as himself
Raoul Coutard as the cameraman
Jean-Luc Godard as Langs AD
Linda Veras as a Siren
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. 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.
Contempt was filmed in and occurs entirely in Italy, with location shooting at the Cinecitta studios in Rome and the Casa Malaparte on Capri island. In a notable 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 seminal films of the Nouvelle Vague, including Godards Breathless. According to Jonathan Rosenbaum, Godard was also directly influenced by Jean-Daniel Pollet and Volker Schlondorffs Mediterranee, released earlier the same year.
The French, Italian, and American theatrical releases differed significantly. The French release was multilingual (French, English, Italian and German), while the American and Italian releases were entirely dubbed into English and Italian, respectively. The French and American releases differ only slightly in editing, but the Italian version is significantly shorter (only 82 minutes) and, instead of George Delerues original, haunting musical score, features a very different light jazz score written by Piero Piccioni.
The Criterion Collections DVD release of the film has the English dub in addition to the original French soundtrack.
The film received universal acclaim from critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported 93% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 43 reviews, with an average score of 8.6/10. 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 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."
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.