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Contempt is a film about filmmaking, putting it in the same category as Day For Night and 8 1/2, but it's also a film about crumbling love, the drudgery and excitement of marriage, and the jealousy and vanity that comprises many of our most intimate relationships. Jack Palance is perfectly cast as a egomaniacal movie producer attempting to browbeat the creativity out of director Fritz Lang (played by the famed director, himself) as he shoots a film version of The Odyssey at a dilapidated Italian studio and some gorgeous seaside locations. Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is brought in to rework the script, but as he rides the merry-go-round of conversation with his wife, Camille (Bardot), it becomes clear that his heart and soul aren't in the job. Palance is a whirlwind of bluster and bravado as he seduces Bardot. His lithe translator, played by Georgia Moll, loosely interprets his verbal storms to Paul in vibrant scenes of attraction and flirtation. Ever the American, Palance drives his sports car the hundred feet or so to the screening room to view dailies, while Moll and Paul walk the short distance.
As Georges Delerue's sweeping and beautiful score rises up at seemingly random and inopportune moments of dialogue, lending a sentimental wink to the proceedings, Contempt constantly flirts with the concept of melodrama throughout its storyline. Godard is clearly enamored by Douglas Sirk-style weepies, even if he's keenly aware of the emotional manipulation they employ. And, ultimately, the film is sharply dramatic, as a relationship crumbles before our eyes, paralleling the story of the film within the film in many ways. Paul is a modern-day Odysseus, not taking the time to battle Camille's spirited suitor, disgusting her and, in the process, replacing adoration with contempt. Bardot's pout becomes hard and resigned over the course of the film as she accepts her fate and is almost indifferently seduced. Does Paul get a fair shake? Should he fight harder for the honor of his Penelope? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But his lack of emotional fortitude begets the film's final tragedy.
Contempt is not the most whimsical or unconventional of Godard's work by any measure, but it is fascinating and engaging, a beautiful creation of a master at the height of his creativity. The themes and poignancy still hold true almost a half-century after its release, and the film is truly one worth seeing on the large screen.
TRAILER: www.youtube.com/watch?v=do7ULPlH0jM SEE ALSO: www.rialtopictures.com/contempt.html
SEE ALSO: www.imdb.com/title/tt0057345/
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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