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With: Michel Piccoli, Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance, Fritz Lang, Giorgia Moll
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard, based on a novel by Alberto Moravia
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 104
Date: 10/29/1963

Contempt (1963)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Godard's Odyssey

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 masterpiece Contempt (a.k.a. Le m├ępris) was restored and re-released theatrically several years ago but has never been properly released on video until now. It's a beautiful, full-color Cinemascope film, an expensive international production, but still one of Godard's most personal and most perverse films.

A screenwriter Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) upsets his marriage to the beautiful blonde Camille (Brigitte Bardot) by taking on a job for an egomaniacal American film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance). His task: adapt Homer's "The Odyssey" for director Fritz Lang (playing himself). In several instances, he passively lets Prokosch hit on his wife, and she begins to resent him for it, though they continue to play mind games and guessing games with one another over the real cause of the rift. Meanwhile, Lang has his head deeply into "The Odyssey" and discusses with Paul several possibilities as to why Ulysses might have stayed away from his wife Penelope for so many years.

Godard had an innate knack for the wide frame, using it stunningly to physically illustrate the characters' rocky emotional states. In one tour-de-force, he follows the couple at home, using long takes as they undress, use the toilet, bathe, smoke, and fight. In another, the camera tracks back and forth past a lamp, which is switched on and off in the middle of the discussion, as a way of suggesting ideas understood and then lost. Some of the exterior shots -- filmed in Rome and Capri -- are truly dazzling, but also use sunny spaces to further isolate the characters.

It's also a film for trivia nuts. It's the film in which Lang says "Cinemascope is not for men, but for snakes and funerals," the meaning of which has long occupied film buffs. Godard was also asked to include more footage of Bardot nude, so he complied with a stunning opening sequence, shot through several different colored filters, which sets up the martial battle. Additionally, Godard pays tribute to several of his favorite films here, including several by Lang, Howard Hawks' Hatari!, Roberto Rossellini's Voyage in Italy, Vincente Minnelli's Some Came Running and many more.

Overall, though, it's both a remarkable work of film criticism, sly and self-effacing, as well as an emotionally wrenching portrait of love and marriage.

DVD Details: Criterion has once again outdone themselves with this two-disc set, certainly one of the greatest DVDs yet released. They have done a miraculous job of presenting this film for the digital format (approved by the film's cinematographer Raoul Coutard), but they've also outdone themselves with extras. Among the most exciting: an indispensable feature-length sit-down interview between Godard and Lang called "The Dinosaur and the Baby." Film scholar Robert Stam provides a feature commentary track for the film, and New Wave director Jacques Rozier's two on-set short films are also included.

Blu-Ray Details: Lionsgate obtained the Blu-Ray rights for Contempt and -- on their 2010 release -- managed to incorporate many, but not all of the extras from the Criterion DVD. No matter: the picture looks extraordinary (especially the full-color exterior shots) and it does include my favorite extra from the DVD, "The Dinosaur and the Baby."

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