Contempt (Le mepris)


Film substitutes a world that conforms to our desires. This is the story of that world.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mepris, or Contempt, was largely advertised with star Brigitte Bardot as the centerfold, using her sex appeal to try and sell the film. What Le Mepris ends up being is a little more than that, though not by much; this is Godard, after all. Once again, we find ourselves watching a director’s film about making films, though I wasn’t sure that even this subject would make me excited for a Godard film, and as it turns out, I was pretty much right. I liked this more than I would have if it hadn’t had the subject matter it did, and also because a majority of the film was largely without Godard being all Godard on us the audience, but there was still some to be had.

The film is ostensibly about two things; the making of a film about Homer’s The Odyssey, directed by Fritz Lang (who plays himself), and the marriage turmoil between one of the scriptwriters of the fictional film and his wife, played by Bardot. The Lang picture’s producer, played by Jack Palance, hires the writer to revise the script, and uses the opportunity to invite him and his wife to his place for a drink. Evidently, something happens along the way that the scriptwriter, having been forced to walk there instead of riding in Palance’s car like his wife, was not a privy to, and it begins to drive a wedge between him and his wife, mostly through a very large sequence in the middle of the film where the two argue in their apartment. Right from the get-go, the film makes use of meta elements and that typical Jean-Luc Godard immersion-breaking reminder that, yes, we are watching a film; the opening credits, for instance, aren’t displayed, but are instead read aloud for us to hear, as a film camera dollies over to us before turning to face the screen. This would only seem to be a pretense, however, as after the first ten-to-fifteen minutes or so, the signature Godard aspects and meta elements are left by the wayside so Godard can once again indulge in his near-physical love of the spoken word. It’s because the Godardness is mostly dropped from this point on that this, to me, worked better than his other films, and I even began to find myself enjoying the contextual discussions between the characters. The other memorable aspect was, by and large, the film’s score. Now, Godard films aren’t typically known for their scores, as far as I know, but Le Mepris’ was very memorable, even if Godard did use it too often, and in improper places, as he is wont to do.

The Godard stylings of the first section of the film aside, this was more than what I was expecting; no doubt because I was expecting a Godard film, and this is hardly one of those, at least at face value. There’s a real craftsmanship on display here that would seem to be the opposite of what Godard does with all of his other films, and it was because there was actual thought put into the various aspects of this one that I ended up liking it. I’d say, to anyone looking towards seeing this or not, that if you’re not a fan of Godard, this would seem to be the one exception that you might actually end up liking, like I did. I’ve only got one Godard film left on the list, and I suspect it to be a return to the man’s form, so I’m thankful I only have one remaining, but I’ll treasure the one bright spot in the middle of the man’s filmography that I’ve found with this one.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10


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