Contempt (film)

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French theatrical release poster
FrenchLe Mépris
Directed byJean-Luc Godard
Screenplay byJean-Luc Godard
Based onIl disprezzo
1954 novel
by Alberto Moravia
Produced by
CinematographyRaoul Coutard
Edited byAgnès Guillemot
Music by
  • Rome Paris Films
  • Les Films Concordia
  • Compagnia Cinematografica Champion
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 29 October 1963 (1963-10-29) (Italy)
  • 20 December 1963 (1963-12-20) (France)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
  • France
  • Italy
  • French
  • English
  • German
  • Italian
Budget$1 million[2][3][4]
Box office1,597,870 admissions (France)[5]

Contempt (French: Le Mépris) is a 1963 French New Wave drama film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, based on the 1954 Italian novel Il disprezzo (A Ghost at Noon) by Alberto Moravia.[6] It stars Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Fritz Lang, and Giorgia Moll.


Paul Javal, a young French playwright who has found commercial success in Rome, accepts an offer from vulgar American producer Jeremy Prokosch to rework the script for German director Fritz Lang's screen adaptation of the Odyssey.

Paul's wife, Camille Javal, joins him on the first day of the project at Cinecittà. As the first discussions are completed, Prokosch invites the crew to join him at his villa, offering Camille a ride in his two-seat sportscar. Camille looks to Paul to decline the offer, but he submissively withdraws to follow by taxi, leaving Camille and Prokosch alone. Paul does not catch up with them until 30 minutes later, explaining that he was delayed by a traffic accident. Camille grows uneasy, secretly doubting his honesty and suspecting that he is using her to cement his ties with Prokosch. Her misgivings are heightened when she sees Paul grope Prokosch's secretary, Francesca. Back at their apartment, Paul and Camille discuss the subtle uneasiness that has come between them in the first few hours of the project, and Camille suddenly announces to her bewildered husband that she no longer loves him.

Hoping to rekindle Camille's love, Paul convinces her to accept Prokosch's invitation to join them for filming in Capri. Prokosch and Lang are locked in a conflict over the correct interpretation of Homer's work, an impasse exacerbated by the difficulty of communication between the German director, French script writer, and American producer. Francesca acts as interpreter, mediating all conversations. When Paul sides with Prokosch against Lang by suggesting that Odysseus actually left home because of his wife's infidelity, Camille's suspicions of her husband's servility are confirmed. She deliberately allows him to find her in Prokosch's embrace, and in the ensuing confrontation she implies that her respect for him has turned to contempt because he has bartered her to Prokosch. He denies this suggestion, offering to sever his connection with the film and leave Capri; but she will not recant and leaves for Rome with the producer. After a car crash in which Camille and Prokosch are killed, Paul prepares to leave Capri and return to the theater. Lang continues to work on the film.



Italian film producer Carlo Ponti approached Godard to discuss a possible collaboration; Godard suggested an adaptation of Moravia's novel Il disprezzo (originally translated into English with the title A Ghost at Noon) in which he saw Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra as the leads; they refused. Ponti suggested Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, whom Godard refused. Anna Karina (by then Godard's former wife) later revealed that the director had traveled to Rome to ask Monica Vitti if she would portray the female lead. However the Italian actress reportedly turned up an hour late, "staring out the window like she wasn't interested at all".[7] Finally, Bardot was chosen because of the producer's insistence that the profits might be increased by displaying her famously sensual body. This provided the film's opening scene, filmed by Godard as a typical mockery of the cinema business with tame nudity. The scene was shot after Godard considered the film finished, at the insistence of the American co-producers.[8] In the film, Godard cast himself as Lang's assistant director, and characteristically has Lang expound many of Godard's New Wave theories and opinions. Godard also employed the two "forgotten" New Wave filmmakers, Luc Moullet and Jacques Rozier, on the film. Bardot visibly reads a book about Fritz Lang that was written by Moullet, and Rozier made the documentary short about the making of the film Le Parti des Choses.

Godard admitted to changing the original novel, "but with full permission" of Moravia, the original writer. Among his changes were focusing the action to only a few days and changing the writer character from being "silly and soft. I've made him more American—something like a Humphrey Bogart type."[9]

Half the film's budget went on Bardot's fee.[4]


Contempt was filmed in Italy where it is set, with location shooting at the Cinecittà studios in Rome and the Casa Malaparte on Capri island. In a sequence, the characters played by Piccoli and Bardot wander through their apartment alternately arguing and reconciling. Godard filmed the scene as an extended series of tracking shots, in natural light and in near real-time. The cinematographer Raoul Coutard also shot some of the other nouvelle vague films, including Godard's Breathless (1960). According to Jonathan Rosenbaum, Godard was also directly influenced by Jean-Daniel Pollet and Volker Schlöndorff's Méditerranée, released earlier the same year.[10]

Godard admitted his tendency to get actors to improvise dialogue "during the peak moment of creation" often baffled them. "They often feel useless," he said. "Yet they bring me a lot... I need them, just as I need the pulse and colours of real settings for atmosphere and creation."[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film "luxuriant" but wrote that Godard "could put his talents to more intelligent and illuminating use"; according to Crowther, who is unclear about the motivations of the main characters, "Mr. Godard has attempted to make this film communicate a sense of the alienation of individuals in this complex modern world. And he has clearly directed to get a tempo that suggests irritation and ennui."[11]

Sight & Sound critic Colin MacCabe referred to Contempt as "the greatest work of art produced in postwar Europe."[12]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 91% based on 58 reviews, with an average score of 8.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "This powerful work of essential cinema joins 'meta' with 'physique,' casting Brigitte Bardot and director Godard's inspiration Fritz Lang."[13]


French journalist Antoine de Gaudemar made a one-hour documentary in 2009 about Contempt, Il était une fois... Le Mépris (A Film and Its Era: Contempt)[14] using footage from Jacques Rozier's earlier documentaries Paparazzi (1963), Le Parti des Choses (1964), and André S. Labarthe's Le dinosaure et le bébé (1967).[15]

In 2012, Godard's film ranked 21st on critic's poll and 44th on director's poll in Sight & Sound magazine's 100 greatest films of all time list.[16][17]

The extended apartment sequence that occurs in the film, where Paul and Camille's marriage unravels, has been praised by critics and scholars. In February 2012, Interiors, an online journal that is concerned with the relationship between architecture and film, released an issue that discussed how space is used in this scene. The issue highlights how Jean-Luc Godard uses this constricted space to explore Paul and Camille's declining relationship.[18]

The song "Theme de Camille", which was originally composed for Contempt, is used as a main theme in the 1995 film Casino.

A still from the film was used as the official poster for the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.[19]

In 2018 the film ranked 60th on the BBC's list of the 100 greatest foreign-language films, as voted on by 209 film critics from 43 countries.[20]


  1. ^ "Contempt (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. 20 April 1971. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  2. ^ Moviedrome – Le Mépris (Alex Cox) on YouTube
  3. ^ Archer, Eugene (27 September 1964). "France's Far Out Filmmaker". The New York Times. p. X11.
  4. ^ a b "Very little left for production". Variety. 14 August 1963. p. 5.
  5. ^ Le Mépris, box office information by Renaud Soyer, (in French)
  6. ^ Moravia, Albert (1954). Il disprezzo [A Ghost at Noon]. OCLC 360548.
  7. ^ "Anna Karina: 2 or 3 things we now know about her". British Film Institute. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  8. ^ "Things You Need to Know About Le Mépris". Spectacular Attractions. 7 February 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  9. ^ a b Hawkins, Robert F. (16 June 1963). "Godard's Ghost, Roman-Style: Analytic Break Complex Pattern One Man's Method". The New York Times. p. 97.
  10. ^ Schneider, Steven Jay (1 October 2012). 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die 2012. Octopus Publishing Group. p. 419. ISBN 978-1-84403-733-9.
  11. ^ The New York Times movie review by Bosley Crowther from December 19, 1964
  12. ^ Phillip Lopate "Brilliance And Bardot, All in One" The New York Times (22 June 1997)
  13. ^ "Le Mépris (Contempt)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  14. ^ Il était une fois... Le Mépris at IMDb
  15. ^ Le dinosaure et le bébé, dialogue en huit parties entre Fritz Lang et Jean-Luc Godard at IMDb
  16. ^ Christie, Ian (1 August 2012). "The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  17. ^ "Directors' top 100". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. 2012. Archived from the original on 9 February 2016. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  18. ^ Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian "Le mépris". Interiors Journal (15 February 2012).
  19. ^ "Official poster for the 69th Festival de Cannes". Cannes. Archived from the original on 21 April 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  20. ^ "The 100 Greatest Foreign Language Films". British Broadcasting Corporation. 29 October 2018. Retrieved 10 January 2021.

External links[edit]