Le Mépris (Contempt) written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard in 1963 is based on a 1954 Italian novel called Il disprezzo (A Ghost at Noon) by Alberto Moravia. The cast is very small and focuses on Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance, Michel Piccoli, and, playing himself, director Fritz Lang. Le Mépris takes on the daunting task of entertaining an audience while showing a seemingly very nice couple break up for two hours straight. Combine the story with 20-minute long scenes and sequences, and this film belongs directly in the center of the French New Wave.
Jeremy Prokosch (Palance) plays an American producer who is in Italy creating a new version of Ulysses with his writer/director Fritz Lang. Prokosch feels the film is becoming too realistic and is lacking a philosophical aspect. Lang, on the other hand, is quite happy with following the original Ulysses as closely as possible. Prokosch hires a young playwright, Paul Javal (Piccoli), to write a revision of Lang’s script. The money is substantial and would be a great help to Javal and his wife Camille (Bardot). But, from the beginning, Camille is upset by the transaction. The audience cannot be certain if she feels that Paul is selling out, if she is having an affair with Prokosch, or if she is angry at a romantic interaction she saw occur between Paul and Prokosch’s interpreter Francesca (Giorgia Moll).
Palance spends his time being loud and flinging his limbs around like he’s a puppet on twisted strings. Without a doubt, though, Bardot and Piccoli have more chemistry than the periodic table of the elements. They hold those 20-minute scenes up on their shoulders as though they were light. You will feel for them, have hope for them, and follow them down into disappointment and despair. And, because Godard is a master of the art, you will be glad to follow the characters of Le Mépris wherever they may go.
Both the UHD and accompanying Blu-ray disc offer an Introduction by film historian Colin MacCabe. Additional Bonus Features on the Blu-ray are:
- “Once Upon a Time There Was…Contempt“: Documentary on the film
- “Contempt…Tenderly”: Documentary on the film
- Conversation with Fritz Lang
- “The Dinosaur and the Baby”: Discussion between directors Jean-Luc Godard and Fritz Lang