Starring: Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Running Time: 103 mins
Contempt (Le Mépris) is a French film about a frustrated playwright and his bored wife whose relationship takes a turn for the worse as they play part in a new production of Homer’s Odyssey, complicated by the interests of a Hollywood producer.
This is something a little different to the most famous type of Godard affair. Whilst it still has the same bright colours and deep, thoughtful dialogue that made some of his other works so iconic, this is a far darker film, with a lot less in the way of comedy, and a much heavier, more dramatic atmosphere throughout, which works as both a positive and a negative from time to time.
Let’s start with what the film does best, the visuals. Full of bright, eye-popping primary colours set against a gorgeous Italian backdrop, Contempt is a visually beautiful film to look at. The vibrant colours mean it’s not as heavy-going a film as you’d expect, whilst the stunning settings make it very easy to sit back and fall into the world Godard creates.
That world is one that heavily satirises the movie industry, as well as looks at frustrated relationships and interpersonal tensions. As far as the word ‘satire’ goes, the way that the film pokes fun at Hollywood’s desire to roll out famous names over making true works of art, means it does have a humorous attitude about it, but I can’t say that it’s the funniest film. The satire isn’t there to really make you laugh, but more to make you think, and, in tandem with the more dramatic story about a group of people with an incredibly strained relationship, there’s not much about the film that’s all that hilarious.
Of course, one of the ways in which the film’s satire and drama comes through best is through the performances. Amidst the wider context of the story, Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli play in their own story about a husband and wife whose relationship has gone to the dogs. Working brilliantly together on screen to make that dynamic as convincing as possible, they’re great to watch throughout.
However, the wider story, the one that focuses on the world of filmmaking and Hollywood, shines thanks to three more fantastic performances. The best of all is from Jack Palance, who brilliantly plays an ultra-confident, suave and yet artistically illiterate Hollywood producer that Godard uses to make a point about the worst parts of the movie industry. Alongside Palance is legendary director Fritz Lang, who is a great sport at playing himself in an insane situation, as well as Giorgia Moll, who acts as the neutral bridge between the four increasingly irritated main characters.
One other positive about the film is its score. By far the darkest element of the film, it’s a melancholy and unsettling score that brings the film’s more dramatic themes to the forefront. However, it works brilliantly at making a visually bright film a dark and heavy-going experience.
So, it’s clear that Contempt does a lot right, but I can’t say that I loved watching it. For one, its use of Godard’s typical meandering and fluid pacing doesn’t really come off all that well, whilst the dialogue, which is as deep and philosophical as you’d expect from the director, just isn’t as interesting as it needs to be to make the whole story more emotionally riveting.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about Contempt. Even if it’s not the normal Godard affair, with its darker story and themes, it’s a visually beautiful film with great performances that makes for an engaging, albeit not entirely riveting watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.