Working with his biggest budget to date, Jean-Luc Godard created a sublime widescreen drama about marital breakdown, set during pre-production on a film shoot.
“Contempt has a stately air that breaks with the filmmaker’s earlier, throwaway, hit-and-run manner, as though he were this time allowing himself to aim for cinematic sublimity.”
Phillip Lopate, The Criterion Collection
Famously, producer Carlo Ponti was disappointed that Jean-Luc Godard’s adaptation of the Alberto Moravia’s novel A Ghost at Noon contained no nude shots of star Brigitte Bardot. With typical perversity, Godard compromised by adding an explicit scene of Camille (Bardot) naked on a bed as screenwriter-husband Paul (Michel Piccoli) lists her attractive features. The anecdote is appropriate for a film that features an American film producer (Jack Palance) exerting his crass influence over the Grecian epic being made by German genius Fritz Lang (playing himself).
While filled with playful cinematic references, Le Mépris is perhaps Godard’s most emotionally direct film, particularly intense in the long central apartment scene – masterfully shot by Raoul Coutard – in which the fractures in Paul and Camille’s marriage come to seem irreversible.
For its story of a marriage coming apart in the Italian heat, Godard owes a conscious debt to Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1954).