Maybe the problem is with me. I know it’s Jean-Luc Godard and many people think Le Mépris is another one of his masterpieces, but as a first time viewer, I sometimes found it baffling and interminable.
And by baffling, that's not suggesting I didn’t get it. Storywise, Le Mépris is fairly straightforward, a movie about the making of a movie and how script changes reflect the increasingly turbulent marriage of its protagonist, playwright-turned-screenwriter Paul Javal (Michael Piccoli), and his sultry wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot).
Paul is hired by brash American producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rewrite an adaptation of Odysseus being directed by Fritz Lang (Lang, playing himself). Not only does Paul become subservient - forsaking his own artistic integrity for money - he appears to be encouraging Camille to spend more time with Prokosch. Their marriage almost immediately hits the skids, with Camille stating she no longer loves Paul and feels nothing but contempt for him (never expressly telling him why). Seemingly confused, Paul’s proposed script changes to the movie mirror the current state of his marriage.
The baffling (and interminable) part is Godard’s depiction of the conflict between Paul and Camille...more specifically, the 35 minute argument that takes place in their apartment. Both characters’ moods wildly (and repeatedly) shift, their words and actions ranging from contemplative to abusive to downright childish.
|"Forget it, Camille. I'm riding shotgun."|
That’s not to say Le Mépris isn’t without interest. As one of Godard’s few big budget efforts, it’s gorgeous to look at. So is Ms. Bardot, whose ample nude scenes were apparently inserted at the behest of producer Joseph Levine, which further blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, since we can’t escape the idea that Prokosch might be intended to represent Levine. In fact, when focused on the film-within-the-film, especially the conflict between Lang and Prokosch, the story is pretty interesting.
Still, the film’s praise sort of escapes me. Maybe I’ll think differently upon further viewings, should I ever be compelled to revisit it. Maybe I had unreasonable expectations, since admittedly, the only Godard film I’d seen before was Breathless. So even though this one left me comparatively cold, my criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt. Le Mépris is widely considered one of his best films and fans will certainly love this impressive 4K UHD transfer
INTRODUCTION - By writer and film scholar Colin MacCabe