Sunday 9 October 2022

Le Mépris (Contempt) [1963]

 Godard’s breathtaking, sensuous and fierce masterpiece Le Mépris was packed with cinematic references and straddled multiple dichotomous facets. Adapted from Moravia’s commanding and ferocious novel Il Disprezzo, this smouldering examination of marital disintegration, artistic integrity, and filmmaking was simultaneously suffused with decadent classicism and blazing modernism – aesthetically, thematically and formally – while positing commentaries on modernist interpretations of classical texts, cinematic grammar – interlacing the lush, sensorial and opulent melodrama of Old Hollywood with deconstructive, subversive and radical avant-garde elements –, and overlaps between truth and artifice. Coutard’s resplendent cinematography – delineated with bold primary colours, interplays between intimate close-ups and sumptuous wide-angled frames, and glorious tracking shots –, Georges Delerue’s deeply elegiac score, and co-existence of immaculate mise-en-scène with montages, likened it to the Greek tragedy that formed here – as in the source novel – the focal point for both the plot and broader thematic explorations. Paul (Michel Piccoli), once an independent playwright, has been lured by easy money from writing movie screenplays – ostensibly to provide a luxurious life for his ravishing wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot), but essentially manifesting his self-delusion, hypocrisy and artistic decomposition. Things get dramatically complicated when he takes a job from vulgar, overbearing American producer Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rework the great Fritz Lang’s allegorical adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey into a mainstream costume drama. Meanwhile, the couple’s marriage unravels over the three-act structure, as the underlying malaise and disaffection reaches irreconcilable proportions during the brilliant mid-section staged within their apartment, and gets sealed during their trip to Capri where the filming is underway. This mesmeric work – right from the voyeuristic opening sequence drooling over Bardot’s body to the fatalistic climax – was therefore at once exultant, ponderous and disquieting.

Note: My earlier review of the film can be found here.

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Genre: Drama/Marriage Drama/Showbiz Satire/Avant-Garde

Language: French/English

Country: France

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