Contempt (film)

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1963 Le mepris 1.jpg
Original film poster
Le Mépris
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by
Screenplay by Jean-Luc Godard
Based on Il disprezzo
by Alberto Moravia
Music by
Cinematography Raoul Coutard
Edited by
  • Agnès Guillemot
  • Lila Lakshmanan
  • Les Films Concordia
  • Rome Paris Films
  • Compagnia Cinematografica Champion
Distributed by
Release date
  • 20 December 1963 (1963-12-20)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
  • France
  • Italy
  • French
  • English
  • German
  • Italian
Budget $1 million[2][3]
Box office 1,619,020 admissions (France)[4]

Contempt (released in the UK as French: Le Mépris) is a 1963 French drama film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, based on the Italian novel Il disprezzo (A Ghost at Noon) by Alberto Moravia.[5] It stars Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, and Giorgia Moll.


American film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) hires respected Austrian director Fritz Lang (playing himself) to direct a film adaptation of Homer's Odyssey. Dissatisfied with Lang's treatment of the material as an art film, Prokosch hires Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli), a novelist and playwright, to rework the script. The conflict between artistic expression and commercial opportunity parallels Paul's sudden estrangement from his wife Camille Javal (Brigitte Bardot), who becomes aloof with Paul after he leaves her alone with Prokosch, a millionaire playboy.

While founded on Alberto Moravia's story of the progressive estrangement between a husband and wife, Godard's version also contains deliberate parallels with aspects of his own life: while Paul, Camille, and Prokosch correspond to Ulysses, Penelope, and Poseidon, respectively, they also correspond in some ways with Godard, his wife Anna Karina (his choice of female lead), and Joseph E. Levine, the film's distributor. At one point Bardot dons a black wig, which gives her a resemblance to Karina. Michel Piccoli also bears some resemblance to Brigitte Bardot's ex-husband, the filmmaker Roger Vadim.

Also notable in the film is a discussion of Dante – particularly Canto XXVI of Inferno, about Odysseus' last fatal voyage beyond the Pillars of Hercules to the other side of the world – and Friedrich Hölderlin's poem, "Dichterberuf" ("The Poet's Vocation").



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. Godard's former wife and muse, Anna Karina, 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".[6] 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. 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 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."[7]


Contempt was filmed in and occurs entirely in Italy, 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, shot some films of the Nouvelle Vague, including Godard's Breathless. According to Jonathan Rosenbaum, Godard was also directly influenced by Jean-Daniel Pollet and Volker Schlöndorff's Méditerranée, released earlier the same year.[8]

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."[7]


The French, Italian, and American theatrical releases differed significantly. The French release was multilingual (French, English, Italian and German), while the American and Italian releases were entirely dubbed into English and Italian, respectively. The French and American releases differ only slightly in editing, but the Italian version is significantly shorter (only 82 minutes) and, instead of George Delerue's original musical score, features a very different light jazz score written by Piero Piccioni.

The Criterion Collection's DVD release of the film has the English dub in addition to the original French soundtrack.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received universal acclaim from critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported 94% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 52 reviews, with an average score of 8.7/10. The critical consensus is: "This powerful work of essential cinema joins 'meta' with 'physique,' casting Brigitte Bardot and director Godard's inspiration Fritz Lang."[9]

According to Sight & Sound critic Colin MacCabe, Contempt was "the greatest work of art produced in postwar Europe."[10]

Bosley Crowther called the film "luxuriant" but said the director "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]


Antoine de Gaudemar made a one-hour documentary in 2009 about Contempt, Il était une fois... Le Mépris (A Film and Its Era: Contempt)[12] which incorporated 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).[13]

The extended apartment sequence that occurs in the film, where Paul and Camille's marriage unfolds, 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.[14]

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.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CONTEMPT (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. 20 April 1971. Retrieved 20 July 2015. 
  2. ^ "Moviedrome - Le Mepris (Alex Cox)". YouTube. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  3. ^ Archer, Eugene (27 Sep 1964). "France's Far Out Filmmaker". New York Times. p. X11. 
  4. ^ Box office information for film at Box Office story
  5. ^ Moravia, Albert (1954). Il disprezzo [A Ghost at Noon]. OCLC 360548. 
  6. ^ "Anna Karina: 2 or 3 things we now know about her". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-03-15. 
  7. ^ a b Hawkins, Robert F. (16 June 1963). "Godard's Ghost, Roman-Style: Analytic Break Complex Pattern One Man's Method". New York Times. p. 97. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ "Le Mépris (Contempt)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  10. ^ Phillip Lopate "Brilliance And Bardot, All in One" The New York Times (22 June 1997)
  11. ^ New York Times movie review by Bosley Crowther from December 19, 1964
  12. ^ Il était une fois... Le Mépris at the Internet Movie Database
  13. ^ Le dinosaure et le bébé, dialogue en huit parties entre Fritz Lang et Jean-Luc Godard at the Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian "Le mépris". Interiors Journal (15 February 2012).
  15. ^ "Official poster for the 69th Festival de Cannes". Cannes. Archived from the original on 21 April 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2016. 

External links[edit]