Contempt (1963) Poster

(1963)

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10/10
A difficult film.
OttoVonB20 February 2007
Paul (Picoli) is hired by vulgarian US producer Jerry Prokosh (Palance) to rewrite a screenplay for his adaptation, which Fritz Lang (himself) insists on shooting in a hyper-stylized, mythological fashion. Paul's relationship with his trophy wife Camille disintegrates as she feels abandoned by him to Prokosh's advances, and sees him subdue himself to these great men.

It is about film-making - of course! - it is about the plight of the artist, but where it succeeds most is in the carefully examined slow destruction of Camille and Paul's marriage. Raoul Coutard's cinemascope photography, filled with lush colors, only serves to highlight how little Paul is and how out of his depth he is. He and his wife hide it in different manners: Paul by trying to assert intellectual superiority over his wiser-than-she-appears wife, therefor earning her contempt. She hides by relying on her sensuality.

Godard typically references his love for film in a way that many will find pedantic, and the lush score isn't always wisely used, overwhelming and sometimes even obtrusive. But thankfully, Godard's message and cast survive the director's pseudo-intellectual short-comings. Bardot is perfectly cast as the ignorant innocent who strives to appear and be smarter than she is (even sporting a brunette whig at some point, in what is really a sad moment of self-loathing), but fails. Camille never convinces when she speaks, but the pain in those eyes is intensely real. Picoli's Paul is easier to sympathize with, as the "reasonable" whose every move to please anyone dooms him further. It is a cruel lesson and warning about relationships.

The film also serves a more sarcastic and amusing (and far more conscious) duel between Palance's Prokosh, superbly vulgar and dramatic, and Lang, who becomes a wise and immensely charismatic figure that stands against compromise. It is sad that this was the German master's only performance in front of the camera.

Le Mépris is slow, and if you get caught too much in Goddard's referencing and hyper-stylization, it will bore you. But if you really follow these characters, you're in for a unique, edifying and sometimes unnervingly uncomfortable ride.

Must be seen several times under different angles to be fully appreciated.
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10/10
Totally, tenderly, tragically.
FilmSnobby31 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
*Contempt* is a case study in Making The Most Of It. In 1963, Jean-Luc Godard was permitted a big budget financed by an international production, the use of a CinemaScope camera, Technicolor, a pair of icons (Brigitte Bardot and Fritz Lang as himself) to star in the film, and almost total creative autonomy. No auteur -- with the possible exception of Coppola in the Seventies -- was granted this power again. Godard doubtless realized that this would be a one-shot affair, and thus he directs every inch of *Contempt*. He may permit the actors to improvise, but their improvisations are constrained within a tight circle of elaborate choreography. And he denies himself his usual for-the-fun-of-it non-sequiturs: any New Wave mannerisms (and there are few, especially when compared to something like *Band of Outsiders*) are made to serve the various lines of meta-fictive commentary, philosophical inquiry, and more traditional narrative and character development within the film. One wishes that Godard had been forced to do "commercial" work like *Contempt* throughout his career. Big money appears to have disciplined him; to have honed his vision. This New Wave epic clocks in at a mere 104 minutes, making that other 1963 film about film-making, *8 1/2*, seem almost sloppy and bloated by comparison.

What's it about, anyway? Fritz Lang, as "Fritz Lang", is directing an adaptation of "The Odyssey" at Cinecitta Studios. Hovering over him is the fascistic American producer Prokosch (played with manic bewilderment by Jack Palance). Prokosch is unhappy, because Lang has deviated from the script that has turned Odysseus into a modern neurotic-type who is no longer loved by his wife Penelope. The famous director insists on the traditional view of the epic, and then irritates the producer even more by filming it in an over-stylized manner. Prokosch, realizing that this sort of thing will not put butts in the seats, hires a modern neurotic-type (Michel Piccoli as "Paul") to rewrite the screenplay. Paul, meanwhile, is having problems with his own wife, Camille (Bardot).

It's hard to pin down exactly why Camille has taken a contemptuous attitude towards her husband, though the most likely reason is that he has harbored no small measure of contempt for her all along. "I can't believe I married a typist!" is one of his typical exclamations. Or perhaps she despises him because he sells out to Prokosch and then whines about it. This bourgeois screenwriter, who says he needs the *Odyssey* money to pay off their flat in Rome, is also a card-carrying member of the Italian Communist Party. (And he's contemptuous of her typist job?!) He's the sort of poseur that would drive any woman batty: the perfect modern anti-hero, in other words. Prokosch's ideal Odysseus.

The centerpiece of the movie is the 30-minute scene in the married couple's flat. It's the most sustained, minutely choreographed, rigorously blocked and written stretch in Godard's career. A similar, though much lighter, scene with Belmondo and Seberg in *Breathless* served as a mere warm-up for the display of petty acrimony in *Contempt*. A marriage dissolves before our eyes. Meanwhile, DP Raoul Coutard, doing some of the most brilliant work of his career, pokes unobtrusively around the couple, getting cozy with them in the bathroom while one of them sits on a toilet, shooting them from far across the room, catching Bardot and Piccoli at the extreme edges of the CinemaScope frame, slowly tracking the space between them as they murmur their little hatreds. But never getting too close: if Bardot slams the door on Piccoli, we're left stranded with Piccoli, and from a distance, too. It's intimacy without melodrama.

*Contempt* is chock-full of the multiplicity of ideas -- seamlessly reinforced by imagery and dialog -- that make cinephiles love Godard. I've barely scratched the surface and have already run out of space. But I do want to commend Godard on his courage for daring to acknowledge head-on his admiration of Michelangelo Antonioni's *L'Avventura*. Of course, it goes without saying that Godard can't help mocking Antonioni just a bit; but mocking and paying homage are inextricable within the Godard canon. In any case, today's audience may appreciate the economy with which the French director makes his points (*Contempt* is almost an hour shorter than *L'Avventura*), as well as the arguable pictorial superiority of this film to the other one. The scenes on Capri, at the famous Malaparte villa with its wedge-shaped stairs that lead to a barren deck, surrounded by crags that rise like jewels from the calm sea, are some of the most beautiful ever shot. If this was indeed Raoul Coutard's first work with the CinemaScope lens, one can only marvel at his precocious genius.

10 stars out of 10 -- one of the great art-works of the 20th century.
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Film within a film within a film (infinity)
ThreeSadTigers8 April 2008
With Le Mepris (1963), French filmmaker Jean Luc Godard strings together at least three different narrative strands, each of which are in some way connected to the central story of a couple falling out of love, and all further set against an additional thematic backdrop of film-making and ancient Greek mythology. With this technique, Godard is clearly attempting to not only present us with a vicious satire on the business of movie-making, but also attempting to deconstruct the very notion of film-making by contrasting the soulless and mechanical approach to studio production, with the trials and tribulations of a torturous love affair.

As with the vast majority of Godard's work - particularly of this era - Le Mepris is very much a work in the meta-film tradition; in the sense that it is a film about film-making that is constantly reminding the audience of its own artificiality and manufactured design. This ideology is evident right from the start, as Godard begins the film with a lengthy tracking shot, which finds the camera following in front of a camera actually within the film and also in the middle of a similarly complicated tracking shot. To add further ideas of self-reflexivity to the proceedings, Godard appears himself as the film's assistant director, with his cinematographer Raoul Coutard manning the equipment. As the shot progresses, a cold and emotionless voice-over beings narrating the opening credits - though no text appears on screen - whilst the camera continues tracking towards us, edging closer to us until both camera and audience are starring directly into one other and the endless abyss that they represent.

It's pure Brechtian deconstruction, years before Godard would refine the influence of Brecht with the difficult masterpiece Week End (1967), which shares some elements familiar from Le Mepris, in particular the use of the couple as a metaphorical reference point for some kind of greater ideology and a natural continuation of many of the film-making techniques that Godard had been developing since A Woman Is A Woman (1961). This brings us to the story at hand, with Le Mepris focusing on a jaded scriptwriter (Michel Piccoli) setting out to polish the screenplay for Fritz Lang's big budget adaptation of Homer's epic, The Odyssey. From this set up we are introduced to the writer's beautiful and enchanting girlfriend (Brigitte Bardot), the arrogant U.S. film producer (Jack Palance), and the great man himself, Fritz Lang.

Each of these four characters will be involved in their own separate strand of the narrative that will run concurrently alongside the other characters, whilst in turn, laying reference points to the likes of Ulysses, The Odyssey, Fellini and The Rite of Spring, to create the overall foundation of the film itself. This is only the first quarter of the film and already Godard is churning out exciting idea after exciting idea to smash apart the worn clichés and generally accepted limitations of film in a way that is as startling, boring, joyous and confusing as anything else he has directed. The visual design is just splendid, with Godard and Coutard moving further away from the Nouvelle Vague/Cinéma-vérité influences of their earliest work and incorporating beautifully vivid primary colours, the use of cinema-scope, complex and seemingly random tracking shots and camera movements and sporadic bursts of music to disarm the viewer during moments of dialog.

The centrepiece here is the near-infamous twenty-minute long sequence that takes place between the writer and his girlfriend in their vast, open-plan apartment, in which jealousies, bitterness and petty arguments blow up and cool off amidst a series of seemingly mundane, everyday-like activities. What makes the scene work is Godard's far from invisible directorial intent, as he attempts to excite, bore and eventually move the audience into becoming interested in these complicated and far from conventional characters whilst simultaneously using the set up to offer a skillful deconstruction of his own film's narrative, the narrative of Homer's Odyssey, and the film that Lang is making. This ties into the further film-within-a-film-within-a-film (infinity) abstractions, with Godard continually making allusions to the idea that the film we are watching could easily be a film being made.

The film also works in a circular sense, opening with that aforementioned scene in which Godard points the barrel of the lens directly into the audience whilst narrating his own credits, whilst the final shots shows the camera drifting off towards the sunset as Godard yells "cut". With Le Mepris, Godard clearly struck the right balance of cinematic invention; beautiful photography, use of colour, costumes and music, a recreation of Cinecittà as a pastoral ghost town (a comment on film-making in itself), etc, whilst achieving a subtle symbiosis between his characters, his narrative and his philosophical subtext. For me, this is perhaps the strongest 'narrative' film the director ever made before abandoning generic storytelling and instead striving for greater artistic substance.

I suppose in this day and age it is easy to look back on Godard's once radical use of cinematic experimentation - and his genuine desire to challenge the medium of film far beyond the usual presentation of conventions like character and narrative - and see it as something that is hollow and dated; a pseudo-intellectual exercise in cinematic deconstruction that is there to be endured, as opposed to enjoyed. Though this may still be true for some viewers - particularly those at odds with Godard's personal style and the very 60's idea that art could be entertainment and that anything was possible - there will be other viewers who are far more in tune with the notion of cinema for cinema's sake, and can better appreciate the film for what it truly is.
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9/10
The language of Godard
Chris_Docker11 April 2009
Most cinephiles, faced with a choice between an original language, subtitled film, and a dubbed version, will choose the former. But what if it is a multilingual film, released in different versions? Would you be tempted to choose the version of your own language? Such a choice with Le Mépris (Contempt) yields a radically different experience, well beyond the mere question of subtitles.

The story tells of the making of a movie in Italy with an American producer, an Austrian director, plus a script doctor and his beautiful wife. The French version is multilingual. Whereas the English-American and Italian versions are entirely dubbed. Crucially, in the English-American version, the producer seems to be followed about by a quirky assistant who paraphrases the somewhat vainglorious proclamations of her boss for the benefit of other mere mortals. Only in the French version, is it apparent she is an interpreter.

This is important, as one of the themes of Le Mépris is the breakdown of communication. Not only are the producer and director at odds with each other, but the marital breakdown of the script doctor and his wife (played by Michel Piccoli and the glamorous Brigitte Bardot) is placed under the microscope. Three further parallels are neatly woven into our story. One is the tale of Ulysses separated from his wife Penelope, in which he is protected by Minerva but threatened by Neptune (Homer's Odyssey is the subject of the film-within-a-film). Second is an examination of the gap between cinema-for-profit and cinema-as-art, partly mirrored in the Le Mépris' actual production as well as in its subject matter. And third are autobiographical references to Godard's personal life – both his love life and his life as a filmmaker. Whereas the French version of the movie raises serious questions about the film industry, about the relationship between man and the gods, and even explores some of the more challenging questions about love, life and Homer's work; in the English-American version these things become like added confectionery, arty flourishes for more passive audiences. Or for whom the challenge of discovering cinematic jokes within references to Rio Bravo and works by Fritz Lang (who plays himself as a director) become an intellectual conceit.

Brigitte Bardot here finds at once both a self-consciously iconic and a substantial acting role. On the one hand, her acting talents are utilised to greater effect than in many of her films. On the other, long (soft-core) nude scenes are both complicit in, and critical of, her sex-goddess status. The opening scene, where she teasingly asks her husband which part of her body he finds most attractive, was added at the insistence of the film's American co-producers. Yet its mocking style is almost a lampoon of the use of sex to sell big budget U.S. films. The film-within-a-film's American producer, Jeremy Prokosch (played by Jack Palance), is visibly more enthusiastic about scenes involving nakedness than any faithfulness to the spirit of Homer. Director Fritz Lang, in contrast, goes to great length to examine the essence of the Odyssey, using Dante's Inferno and a poem by Friedrich Holderlin. The gods are created by men, not vice versa, and create the challenges Odysseus is forced to face. It is an easy step to observe how the American producer, throwing his weight around in 'godlike' fashion, both misses this point and actually identifies with the lesser 'gods' of sex and wealth. These gods – in the form of a much-needed cheque for Piccoli's character and the dangling of Bardot's allures before Prokosch, threaten both the marriage and the integrity of the film-within-a-film. Contempt breeds among the characters and begets tragedy.

Piccoli also has a great line about exploitation: "Usually, when you see women, they're dressed. But put them in a movie, and you see their backsides." As if to underline the point, Prokosch casually has his assistant bend over so he can use her (clothed) backside as a table to sign a cheque. His imperious and lecherous attitude dovetails the 'Americanised' scenes that show naked women's backsides without explicitness. They contrast strongly against the clothed Bardot who is portrayed as an intelligent woman able to hold her own.

This film is one of the most rounded of any of Godard's work and can easily be viewed as 'mainstream' – the more philosophical riddles being purely optional. And if Godard is displaying contempt for the prostituting of cinematic art to big business – principally American big studios – the style is still reverential towards his American heroes: Le Mépris has been accurately described as, "Hawks and Hitchcock shot in the manner of Antonioni." Godard, like Ulysses and Piccoli's character, has both engaged with the enemy - American producer Joseph E Levine (Neptune, Prokosch) and prevailed. He has not 'sold-out' to big finance but, like Ulysses on coming home, merely disguised himself as a beggar to better elicit the truth. 'Minerval' wisdom shines through (especially from the mouth of his hero-in-exile, Fritz Lang, with lines that reflect Godard's philosophy). When Bardot's character Camille wears a black wig, she resembles Godard's wife Anna Karina. Her story, subjected to unwanted attentions while her husband is absent, parallels Penelope.

By many sleights of hand, Godard continues to 'explore the uninhabited world' and simultaneously produce a film for many different audiences. Le Mépris is very clever and enjoyable to watch, but does it have anything new to say? Or is it an exquisite exercise in admiring its own limitations? The films strengths are less obvious than the overtly cinematic and revolutionary Breathless, or the philosophically challenging 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. It has as much depth as you wish to find in it, and is more convincing than his disjointed political diatribes. But, unlike all those films, it can also be overlooked as little more than a pleasant experience. Especially by anyone who thinks it would be simpler if we all spoke the same language. Subtitles or not.
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7/10
With "Le Mépris," Godard succeeded where Malle had failed…
Nazi_Fighter_David30 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Strangely enough, director Jean-Luc Godard understood Bardot's capabilities best, and with "Le Mépris," he succeeded where Malle had failed… Because the movie reflected Bardot's new life, the viewer was shown the woman, the actress, the public image, and the private life… "B.B." was dead; Brigitte Bardot was alive and well…

Of all the movies about movies "Le Mépris" may be the most penetrating, the most alienated and least entertaining... Not many people have seen "Le Mépris," but of those who have many despise it greatly…

"Le Mépris" is one of the few films that actually encourages its audiences to walk out… Aside from the fact that it has something important to say and says it interestingly, "Le Mépris" is a nadir of entertainment, and for this reason, and because it is one of the most alienated and alienating films ever made, one can choose to call it great too…

In his film debut, Michel Piccoli (Paul Juval) is a failed playwright who wants to write for the stage, but his sexy wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot), requests a middle-class style of life... Paul has used his savings to buy her an apartment in a stylish building in Rome and is now financially enslaved... The American film producer and tycoon, Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance), has offered him a job as screenwriter of 'The Odyssey,' to be directed by then veteran German-American filmmaker Fritz Lang (played by Fritz Lang!).

Paul sells out, signs the contract with Prokosch and earns the never ending contempt of his wife, who drifts into a liaison with Jerry—not so clear anyway...

Obviously, Prokosch is the Great Vulgarian Producer… He wants Lang to direct 'The Odyssey' because "a German, Schliemann, discovered Troy." Prokosch buys and sells mens' souls... He rushes around the film studio in a flashy red sports car, and reads stupid and pretentious maxims from a red book he carries in his breast pocket…

The story of the dissolution of the Javals' marriage and Camille's contempt for Paul is entwined with the legend of Ulysses, and also with a sort of documentary look at what it's like to make a movie: the compromises, the idiocy, the boredom, and the fatigue…

There are references to film and film-making throughout the motion picture: posters on walls for Howard Hawks' "Hatari" and Hitchcock's "Psycho," brief looks at the inside of a movie studio, and the goings-on in a screening room… But perhaps the most interesting and mystical element in this film are its first and final shots…

On Godard's instructions we are compelled to point inwards, to submit, to think, and to contemplate... Godard seems to suggest that the provocative statement of "Le Mépris" which is sombre, beautiful and rich, is in reality a short interesting anecdote about us all...
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The Director, The Producer, Their Writer & His Wife
Fritz Lang, playing himself, is set to direct a more commercial adaptation of Homer's "Odyssey". Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance), the producer, despises art films and hires screenwriter Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) to help Lang commercialize the movie. Javal 'offers' his young wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot, sexier than ever, in one of her few serious roles), to Prokosch, thinking he'll get a better payment. But he didn't know that would sparkle Camille's contempt and ruin their marriage.

"Le Mépris" aka "Contempt" is Godard's existentialist, provocative essay of the relationships between artistic and commercial cinema, man and woman/husband and wife (he was married to his then-muse Anna Karina, with whom he made some of his best films; after their divorce in 1967, he married Anne Wiazemsky, with whom he made "La Chinoise", "Week End" and others). Gorgeously photographed by Raoul Coutard and scored by the master Georges Delerue, and with some "influences" of Antonioni's trilogy (L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse), "Le Mépris" is not my favourite Godard, but it's certainly a vigorous film. 9/10.
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10/10
A finely crafted masterpiece
gknysh31 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Bardot's magnificent performance as Camille Javal [she was so good that her character's name was later believed to be her real name!], wife of the aspiring screenwriter Paul (nicely played by a young Michel Piccoli) merely confirmed what Clouzot's "La Verite" (1960) had already established, viz., that B.B. was a highly talented actress and not merely a lovely sex kitten pimped by ex-husband Vadim to titillate the fantasies of horny international audiences. "le Mepris" ("Contempt") is a jewel cut by France's leading "Nouvelle Vague" director Jean-Luc Godard, and intended (says his outstanding cinematographer Raoul Coutard) as an apologetic testimonial to Godard's estranged wife Anna Karina. This is a film about film-making in the 1960's, and about the stresses on personal relationships provoked by the pursuit of cinema's world of illusion.[the presence of the great Fritz Lang playing himself authenticates the theme]. Paul Javal (his constant wearing of a hat is the clue to his partial representation of Godard) is a man whose artistic sensibility and individuality have yet to be shaped, and who uses Camille as an instrument to achieve self-identity. But Camille is a goddess, a force of nature, and her total love for Paul slowly disintegrates in the course of the creative "mind games" he selfishly makes her endure. (One such is the marvelously erotic opening scene with the softly voices enumerations of her physical assets by a nude Camille: that this is a "game" is shown by her query to "director" Paul whether she should rise on her knees to continue...There are many such indicators throughout the film. See for instance Camille's fleeting smile ar Paul in Prokosch's garden at minute 26:28.)As the story unfolds, pretended reality is remorselessly transformed into "real" reality, and Camille's staged contempt into an actual rejection of a husband who is revealed to be a spineless wimp ("You are not a man" at minute 1:35:19). The accompanying change of Camille's initial dislike of the energetic and crassly domineering producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance)into a recognition that this equally potent "god" and force of nature is perhaps worthier of her attention than her hapless husband is also delicately presented by Godard (There is a fascinating scene near the very end where Prokosch shows how his personality is being positively changed by his attraction to Camille, and how he yearns to acquire a gentler image to please her.) But the film is a tragedy on more than one level, and a fatal accident in which both Prokosch and Camille lose their lives prevents any resolution or even development. This is a profound film which needs to be viewed many times, with increasing understanding and appreciation of its complexities. The photography is stunning (esp. the Capri shots), and the wonderfully haunting score by Georges Delerue only increases our viewing pleasure.
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8/10
Perhaps it's great because of its ambiguity.
bobsgrock19 July 2009
Contempt is the type of film that can create that feeling between itself and the audience watching. It is a strange mix of cinematic magic and unrealistic psychobabble. Jean-Luc Godard is one of the greatest of all directors and perhaps the most successful of the French New Wave, one of the most important occurrences in film history. He had already hit success with his ground-breaking Breathless and his personal My Life to Live. Here, he is at his most experimental, even more so than in The Little Soldier. From the opening shot of a camera tracking an actor down towards where the narrative camera is, there is no doubt this is a unique picture.

We then get multiple scenes involving the strangest nude scenes ever recorded. This film stars Bridgette Bardot, one of the most beautiful and captivating women ever to be in a movie, and Godard intentionally films her almost completely without a sense of eroticism or sexiness. She, like everything else here, is objectified, pushed away and gives us a chance to consider other films we have seen.

This is a rare gift to film lovers, a story that cannot be judged on standard grounds because it is not a standard film. Godard, I believe, is showing the absolute boundaries of the cinema, daring to go farther than nearly anyone before or after him. For most, it will totally polarize them and perhaps turn them off to Godard or even foreign films completely. But, that should not be the case. True, this is a head-scratcher, but you cannot expect normalcy from a director like Godard. Here, along with most of his other work, he proved that the director, if given freedom, can change the look and feel of a film to an unlimited amount of options and opportunities. Roger Ebert said that Godard never made another movie like this because he realized he couldn't. I think he didn't because he realized cinema hasn't reached those limits yet; and perhaps never will.
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10/10
Godard's Contempt
Justified-L20 December 2004
The whole movie can be captured in one moment. That one fleeting second when the absurd irony and futility of 'everything' will dawn upon you. Either that or you will merely take it for what it is. A masterpiece.

So obviously chained by the wrath of Gods, the movie on the whole has too much to offer. Whether it is the parallels between the existing world and the world of homer, the constant struggle with commercialism or the perusal of a writer's integrity... you will keep on jumping between realism and.... romanticism? Throughout the movie, a haunting melancholic theme continues to play magic on nerves. Amongst countless striking scenes lies a splendidly performed sequence made on a shoestring budget in the apartment that captures the unsettling confessions of the pair. Definitely worth seeing/experiencing!

As much as you will fall under the spell of Godard and feel for the likes of Lang, you can't help being amused by the almost comical character of Palance. Very comical, Very contemptuous.

But at the end its Lang that captures attention on the whole. A lone figure standing amidst harmonious chaos, staring silently at everyone and no one, while life effortlessly moves around him. He makes perfect sense.

Contempt. The whole thing takes place within a system that seems to be contemptuous of itself. So much so that it even ends up holding a mocking mirror, capturing an ultimate contempt for the audience.
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10/10
Ulysses, Guernica, The Rite Of Spring, LE MEPRIS...
alice liddell27 October 1999
One of the great masterpieces of the 20th century, a supreme synthesis of form, content and performance. Arguably the most beautiful too, with its found locations, sets, colour, lighting, music, decor and costume. The straightforward elegance of Godard's shooting masks a story of great complexity and formal rupture, but underneath the philosophy, semiotics and allusion is a portrait of marriage and its decline. The tension between icy irony and resigned emotion results in Godard's most perversely moving film. It is also very funny, which is too little remembered.
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10/10
Arguably Godard's Best Film, Undoubtedly One of the Best Works in Cinema
jazzest31 January 2005
Here are what Contempt, by French director Jean-Luc Godard, made in 1963, is about--an examination on a relationship in jeopardy, which has been one of the most universal themes in cinema, and which is probably inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni's trilogy; a struggle in film-making as a side-theme, which may be Godard's self-reflective expression; the international star cast including Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, and Jack Palance, along with the cameo appearance of legendary German filmmaker Fritz Lang; well-choreographed long takes, which are sometimes several minutes in length, and which could be also influenced by Antonioni; inclusion of three montage sequences that comprise sliced flashback and flashforward clips, which create a remarkable contrast to the long takes; beautifully photographed sceneries, especially of the sea; and the memorable orchestral score with sentimental arpeggio by Georges Delerue.

Being both unique and universal, and being perfectly executed, Contempt is arguably Godard's best film, and undoubtedly one of the best works in cinema.
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7/10
Deeply Thematic
Lechuguilla5 June 2009
French New Wave Director Jean-Luc Godard's apparent intent here is to portray film-making as a grubby, degrading commercial enterprise that taints everything it touches. Given this contemptuous premise, film producers are pimps; film directors are prostitutes. Thus, film-making is essentially artistic prostitution.

That's the major theme among a maze of interlocking themes, most of which are so subtle that trying to figure them out requires multiple viewings and/or college coursework.

The plot is undeniably slow. There are many single-shot sequences, and the entire film contains only about 150 shots. The result is that scenes are very lengthy. Further, the story is amazing in its almost total absence of melodrama. The result of slow pace and lack of melodrama, for many viewers, is abject boredom.

But I think that effect was intentional. My impression is that Godard expects viewers to work, to be part of the film process. In one scene Fritz Lang, the director character, says "One must suffer", in the context of film-making, of which the viewer is included.

"Contempt" has only five main characters. Prokosch (Jack Palance) is the archetype Hollywood producer: crass, stupid, money hungry, uninterested in culture or poetry. He's domineering and dictatorial. In one scene, he mutters: "When I hear the word culture, I grab my checkbook". Fritz Lang, as the film's moral center, counters by saying that in Nazi Germany, the word "checkbook" equated to "revolver", a veiled reference to an edict of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda czar under Hitler. Equating a Hollywood film producer (Prokosch) to Goebbels is about as contemptuous as one can be toward Hollywood.

But the plot in "Contempt" also features a writer named Paul (Michel Piccoli) and his pouty, sultry, rarely smiling wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot). Prokosch wants Paul to write the script for "The Odyssey", the film within "Contempt". "The Odyssey" is supposed to be a story about ancient Greek gods. And the main characters in "Contempt" mirror to some extent the characters in "The Odyssey".

The plot of "Contempt" is segmented into three main parts. The first and third parts focus explicitly on film production, relative to "The Odyssey". The middle section focuses on the discordant relationship between Paul and Camille. Here, most of the plot takes place inside their apartment. The critique of film-making continues, but in a more subtle form, via "mis en scene" staging and framing. And it's presented almost in real time, the effect of which is to amplify boredom for viewers.

"Contempt" is shot in color and in French Cinema-Scope. I did not care for the widescreen projection. Godard uses lots of point-of-view shots. And the entire film is saturated with tracking shots. The use of camera filters symbolizes technical devices that "filter" reality, the implication being that films can never be like real life. Red, white, and blue are the film's main colors, a cinematographic reference to American film-making. Outdoor scenes, especially on the Mediterranean, are beautiful. Georges Delerue's haunting score sets the tone for the whole film, and can be described as tragic, mournful, and majestic, in keeping with epic Greek tragedy.

Acting is acceptable, if unremarkable. Jack Palance, however, is not terribly convincing as a corporate suit. The film's budget was roughly 5 million-franc. And interestingly, almost half of that went to pay the salary of actress Brigitte Bardot, whose presence in this film reeks of personal vanity.

Clearly lacking in entertainment value, the story in "Contempt" will be a pain for many viewers, as it was for me. However, the beautiful score and the gorgeous scenery at Capri help offset the film's script. Taken as a whole this film is important, historically. And what I most admire is that its thematic contempt for Hollywood film-making was courageous in 1963. Unfortunately, that theme is still valid, 46 years later.
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1/10
Possibly the most boring movie ever made.
jasongelt10 June 2002
Don't let the hype frighten you into thinking this flick is over your head. I know it's supposed to be multi-layered and beautifully complex, but it's really just a big fat bore. Godard's arrogant, meandering story is repetitive, static and brimming with stupid dialogue. Take, for example, the famous thirty minute conversation between Bardot and her screenwriter hubbie, an exercise in tedium that is hard to rival in French cinema (and that's saying a lot). Devoid of human warmth or genuine characterizations, Godard's movie is peopled with cardboard stand-ins for archetypes. His story, cribbed in part from Homer's much more entertaining THE ODYSSEY, is so slow as to be unnoticeable and is peppered with annoying references to classic Hollywood cinema that only serve to illustrate how superficial Godard's skills are compared with the directors he admires. It is a telling fact that the sole entertaining moments in the movie come from Jack Palance's portrayel of a gauche, lowbrow movie producer in search of a fresh approach to his stalled ODYSSEY project. The rest of the film is held at bay by poker-faced Frenchmen and ad nauseum appearances of Bridget Bardot's ass. This is a great one for faux intellectuals and classics professors, but if you're looking for a real movie--one that tugs the emotions instead of the cerebellum--you should turn elsewhere.
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10/10
Godard's masterpiece is still captivating
pete3611 December 2002
French cult-director Jean-Luc Godard made this masterpiece way in 1963 but it is still as captivating as it was then.

Featuring then superstar Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli as her husband- screenwriter who is hired to write a screenplay based on the ancient Greek myth `The Oddysey'. The story deals with the creative process of filmmaking as viewed by Godard, but also focuses on the breakdown of a mariage by the growing contempt of Bardot for her husband , whom she feels is selling out to greedy US producer Jack Palance.

This is a superb movie, not only for the frequent nude shots of Bardot (don't miss the beginning) but also for the beautiful sundrenched photography by Raoul Coutard, appearing as himself during the spoken(!) opening credits, the brilliant lyrical soundtrack by Georges Delerue and the inclusion of legendary german director Fritz Lang (wearing a monocle!) as an almost godlike figure. It all contributes to the poetic and spellbounding atmosphere.

Godard, who briefly appears as the assistant-director to Lang, made this when he was at the peak of his craft and it is among one of his biggest commercial and artistic successes. He was one of the most prolific 'auteurs' of the Nouvelle-Vague ( others being Francois Truffaut and Jacques Rivette) but his career petered out by the end of the sixties.

He still is active though, occasionally turning out mildly interesting movies. By the way, in the Vittorio de Sica comedy `After the Fox' (1966), Peter Sellers delivers a great parody number based on the Godard figure.

Brigitte Bardot was then also at the height of her popularity, reaching sometimes hysterical proportions. The filming was frequently interrupted and even delayed considerably by the intrusions of the Italian paparazzi. Incidentally, in the same year when Contempt was released she also appeared as herself in the US comedy `Dear Brigitte', where a schoolboy is completely smitten with her and desperately tries to get a date. His dad is played by James Stewart !

Try to see it in letterbox format, which gives full credit to the excellent use of the Cinemascope format.

10/10
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3/10
The Emperor Has No Clothes
lowkeylysmythe2 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I found this movie immeasurably boring, awkward, stilted, pretentious, self-involved...did I say boring--despite the fact that Bardot is naked fro at least 20 percent of the film? This in itself is an achievement! I like some of Godard's other films, especially Alphaville, but I really don't think this movie deserves the acclaim it has received on its own merits. I tend to like challenging cinema so it wasn't for lack of effort on my part, I've watched it through twice and still found little to hold my interest, just lots of posing and an unaccountably messed up relationship. What was the problem with those two? There was no emotional depth plumbed at all, can Bardot even really act? It was as if just putting her in the film and setting her in pretty poses would be enough. What's the word I'm looking for here...narcissistic? Yes, this movie is utterly narcissistic and therefore uninteresting, at least to me. Perhaps some find style-and-no-substance worthwhile. Not my cuppa tea is all I'm saying.
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2/10
The 15th (or 22nd) greatest movie ever made
keith-moyes-656-48149129 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Occasionally, I like to tick off the movies I haven't yet seen from the Sight and Sound and Cahier Du Cinema lists of greatest films of all time (yes, I am that sad – what's it to you?).

Le Mepris is in 22nd and 15th place respectively. It is really deep.

Firstly it tells you that you are watching a movie, not real life.

Then we meet Michel Picolli, who is pretending to be a writer named Paul Javal and Brigitte Bardot, who is pretending to be his wife, Camille. Please note: these are characters in a movie, not real people.

Camille gets Paul to identify all the parts of her he likes. She asks:

"Do you prefer my breasts or my nipples?"

Faced with a question like that, most men would just get their coats and quietly leave. Here, it is the audience that should have taken the hint.

We learn that Paul has been hired to re-write Fritz Lang's picture of the Odyssey. Camille then gets into a pet because she thinks he has deliberately thrown her at the crass producer Prokosch (Jack Palance). She may be right, but since Paul has already got the job it is not clear what his motive might have been.

The middle stretch of the movie consists of a single thirty-minute scene (in long takes and frequently in long shot) in which the couple engage in one of those endless, circular, bickering arguments that are calculated to drive everybody mad.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing"

"Yes, there is"

"You know what's wrong"

"How could I, if you won't say?"

"Well, if you don't know, I can't tell you"

Finally it emerges that she no longer loves him and feels nothing but contempt (probably because of the Prokosch incident). They can't leave it at that:

"Why do you despise me?"

"You know why"

"No I don't"

Give me strength!

Eventually they go to Capri to make the Odyssey movie, where they continue to bicker until Camille decides to leave Paul and is killed in a car crash.

I nearly forgot, everybody talks about Nicholas Ray and Howard Hawks movies and they all swop quotations from Dante and Bertolt Brecht. Paul and Camille tell each other revealing fables about Ramakrishna and asses buying flying carpets.

Also, the music sometimes swells up so much that it almost drowns out the dialogue. Where was that swelling music during the argument scene when we needed it?

Finally, this masterpiece stops. At this point you realise you are 103 minutes nearer your own death which, curiously, seems to have lost some of its sting.

PS: Fritz Lang is both real and not real. I told you it was deep.
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1/10
Typical Godard
mowaustin15 January 2006
If you a fan of Godard films then you may think this is one of the best films you've ever seen, but if you think that he is just a purveyor of pretentious rubbish then maybe you aught to take up self harming because i'm sure its far more entertaining than Le Mépris.

There is nothing particularly wrong with the film as the acting is strong, but it is just mind numbingly boring. I have heard many people rave about his use of colour, for example the green of the garden is supposed to signify Jealousy, but in my eyes it is only average. If you are interested in seeing some french cinema from this era then I recommend anything by Truffaut or Renoir. IF you choose Godard and the film isn't Breathless (the only worthwhile piece of cinema he ever made) then be prepared for pain, because you'll be stabbing yourself through the hand with the nearest pen just to alleviate the boredom.
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1/10
Dull, Dull, Dull.
carldavis7513 March 2005
I'm going to stand out like a sore thumb here, although I take a crumb of comfort by finding at least one similar comment here. As I say above, it's deathly dull. A couple of hours of pretentious idiots complaining and arguing. Quite frankly I would have preferred them to have shot two hours of themselves lying on the nearby beach sunbathing. I'm possibly missing something, heck, I make no assumptions I'm the most intelligent chap here, but I'm lost completely to what people see in this film. 'A Bout De Soufflé', now thats a Godard film. Seemingly nothing much happens in that film either, but the sheer joy, romance and ability to put a smile on my face like a great pop record, that comes out of it, make it a pleasure not a chore. Oh how 'Le Mepris' cries out for a girl and a gun....
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8/10
My favourite Godard movie
cmccann-24 May 2014
One of the central figures of the French new wave movement, Jean-Luc Godard revolutionized cinema in the late 1950's and early 1960's with films which mixed film-historical pastiche, pop art surfaces, and Marxist-existentialist philosophy in a fresh and innovative way. Released in 1963, Contempt arrived after a string of art-house successes and was at the time Godard's most expensive project, a widescreen story of a faltering marriage featuring big-name stars like Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance. Though some will argue for Breathless and others A Woman is a Woman, to me Contempt represents the apex of Godard's art, an indictment of capitalism dressed up as big budget Hollywood-style entertainment.

Contempt follows Paul Jeval (Michel Piccoli), a struggling playwright who artistically prostitutes himself as the screenwriter for a film adaptation of The Odyssey to support him and his wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot). Paul's decision to write for money makes the couple's marriage an unhappy one, Camille dissatisfied with him for his inability to do something which is both spiritually fulfilling for him and financially lucrative for them. The film ends with Camille leaving Paul to run off with his producer boss Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance), the artist ultimately losing out to the larger mechanisms of capital.

The performances are all well-done, from Piccoli as the withdrawn Paul to Bardot as the coquettish Camille to Palance as the square-jawed money man. The cinematography of Raoul Coutard should be noted, having a pictorial beauty in its colour and composition which recalls the work of the artist Edward Hopper. Like Godard's other movies, Contempt has a playful and freewheeling approach in its structure and editing, at times randomly dipping into a montage sequence or tongue-in-cheek film homage. The story being told, as well as the film's more arty and experimental formal elements, make clear Contempt's status as a radically leftist work - a bomb to be tossed at a movie establishment which pumps out films conveyor belt-style for maximal profit.

In conclusion, one would be wrong to make accusations of "sell out" at Godard when looking at Contempt's original poster which exploits the sexuality of star Brigitte Bardot, because the film is just as radical as any of the director's other work. It's necessary viewing for anyone interested in the French new wave, time capsuling the period when the movement - building off the momentum of its critical hits -reached its apex. That Godard used his most commercial moment to craft a statement that was radically anti-commercial serves as a testament to his brilliance.
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2/10
Nice visuals, ghastly otherwise.
michellefox602 November 2008
This film has some interesting compositions and color in the very wide format rectangle of the screen, that's why I didn't walk out.

Mythology, real life, conflict, blah blah... heard it all. No! It is just an absolutely nothing plot that goes nowhere with a ridiculous and unsatisfying ending.

The weak character development fizzles out during the way too long apartment scene, after which (finally) I couldn't care less about them and just kept my eyes open by looking for the frequent nicely composed shots.

I never wish to see it again, and would not have seen it in the first place if I'd known how bad it would be, zzzzzz.
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When Godard was able to tell stories
michelerealini9 February 2004
In 1963 Jean-Luc Godard directs this dramatic movie, which is one of the his most "mainstream" works.

At this time Godard is still able to tell stories, without loosing himself in intellectual games and political messages -the films he makes from 1966 are more and more hermetic. From 1968-69 they're incomprehensibles...

In "Contempt" a screenwriter is going to realize with Fritz Lang an adaptation of "Ulysses". There are tensions with the American producer, on the other hand there are tensions with his wife -who feels alone and treated more like an object by him. She despises him for that and for his being so coward. She thinks to find a revenge in flirting with the producer...

This films talks about coldness in human relationships and failures in communications. Colours, Italian atmospheres and Mediterranean locations increase this world of silence and frustration.

We can remember "Contempt" for many reasons: first the presence of a young Michel Piccoli and of a wonderful Brigitte Bardot (although she was delicious in every movie she made, here she's special -more sad, frailer ... a real actress). We can't help to appreciate, by the way, her body... this wonderful naked body (we're only in '63!!!). We can also remember the presence of a giant like Fritz Lang, who acts himself. And we can't forget this is a film about movie's world, a film which talks about films... That shows love Godard has for this art.
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9/10
This is how people build relationships.
piousbox19 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Herein be mild spoilers.

A wonderful film that should really be required curriculum for the shy and indecisive ones. It shows, in a nutshell, the difference between an attractive man and a polite man.

The movie could be deemed sexist, if only it was not so funny. Women in this movie, the two main leads and the one minor role, are shown as (1) object of visual please, (2) objects of sexual pleasure, (3) possessions and (4) furniture. The last one is my favourite and has a particular touch of the French New Wave to it. Now, the synopsis: Prokosch (Jack Palance) plays the role of the alpha-male, the wrong-doer but also the relentless pursuer of his goals. Everyone around him--co-workers and acquaintances alike--find themselves annoyed & disturbed by him, yet pulled in by his irresistible charisma and forced to comply with the rules that only he makes.

The young and beautiful Camille (Brigitte Bardot), the wife of a timid but polite Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli), finds herself in a dilemma: on the one hand she's got her husband, on the other, Prokosch. She loves her husband and thinks Prokosch is a "jerk," yet later on her attitude is reversed and it is to her husband that she feels contempt, and admiration for Prokosch. This is explained at length in the course of the movie, intercut at times with various quotations and nonsensual fables, yet Mr. Javal fails to grasp it. Poor Camille. She can only hate him. How did they manage to marry in the first place.

The ending is particularly suiting. Because it points out an important flaw in Prokosch's character, therefore suggesting that he too is not a paragon of perfection. Although proponents of Prokosch's attitude may disregard the accident as a coincidental and an untrue invention in the scriptwriter's, it should be noted to them that recklessness, like any trait of character, positive and negative alike, should not be taken to such an extreme as to cause death. Relentlessness, as prudence, should also be used only in appropriate context and not for what Prokosch was using it. In Contempt no one is a winner, and Camille especially falls on the wrong side of the fence.
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10/10
Godard, Bardot and Lang... what a combo!
kirksworks4 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I hadn't seen "Contempt" since film school in the early 1970s, and at that time it didn't make much of an impression. Now maybe age had something to do with it, but this time I was entranced.

"Contempt" is really about movie making, while simultaneously showing the collapse of a marriage. The plot concerns a writer who brings his wife with him to Cinecitta in Rome to meet with the producer and director of a new version of Homer's The Odyssey to determine how the script should be rewritten. The writer isn't big on the idea of doing a screenplay, fighting with himself that maybe he is selling out. He and his wife end up on the island of Capri with the film crew for the rest of the film.

The casting is interesting. The writer is played by Michel Piccoli, his wife by Brigitte Bardot, the producer by Jack Palance and the director by real life director Fritz Lang. This was the last thing Lang ever did that appeared on film, and it was a performance that he should be proud of. The angst he displays in his dealings with tyrannical producer Palance is palpable. Lang, having lived the same experience he portrays here with tyrannical producers in his own career was more than a blueprint for truth in body language and vocal expression. Other members of the cast include Godard himself as an assistant to the director (are we trying to say something here?), and the beautiful Giorgia Moll as assistant to the producer. Moll I was familiar with from one of my childhood favorites, the Steve Reeves 1961 version of "Thief of Bagdad" (only two years before "Contempt"). She apparently is still living, but hasn't been on screen since 1985.

I haven' seen many Bardot films, but she was exciting in "...And God Created Woman." I also liked her okay in the Louis Malle short, "William Wilson," part of the the Edgar Allen Poe compilation "Spirits of the Dead." Bardot in "Contempt" is a different story. She is fiery and fascinating. Piccoli as her husband has the right balance of intellect and vibe of "loser." Jack Palance as the producer is about as hateful a character as I've seen him play. Only he could have done it so well. Godard apparently hated dealing with the actual producers of the film, Carlo Ponti and Joseph E. Levine, and combined both elements of their personality as he saw them into the character Palance plays.

According to the commentary on the Criterion edition, Ponti and Levine demanded that Godard have major a nude scene with Bardot. The director obliged, but he did so in his own way, sticking it right at the start of the film to get it over with, and lit strangely so the focus is on the color and less on Bardot's behind. He also sucked all the romance out of the scene by having the dialog be read without passion and having it suggest the seeds of a marriage about to fail.

The film is moderately paced with many languid camera moves, but it was so stunning to look at and the character interrelationships so compelling that I found myself completely drawn in. This may be Godard's best direction of actors, and it's due in no small part by the effective casting. Piccoli and Bardot work so well together to show the disintegration of their relationship, it was unnerving. The scene in their flat where they walk from room to room as their relationship disintegrates is a stunning piece of acting, and as conceptually brilliant as it gets visually. Bardot's character is also a real mystery. We never really know why she wants to end the marriage, but she wants to with such intense passion, and with little or no explanation to her husband, that it only makes her character all the more compelling.

The other "star" of the film is the amazing isle of Capri, shot under absolutely ideal weather conditions. This is one of the most beautiful films from the 60s. Even the interiors take your breath away. Godard found this rich villa in Capri with a giant window in the living room that looks out onto the aqua blue water and jagged rocks that bite into the sea. What a place to live! The bold color sense really struck me though out. The use of primary colors, primarily red, blue and white (the couches, as an example) add a stark vibrancy. French New Wave cinema eye candy.

I know Godard is not a filmmaker for everyone, and I've found some of his films completely worthless ("Sympathy for the Devil"), but he was always willing to take chances, experimenting in different genres and doing things no one else was even conceiving of. "Contempt" is a very successful realization of Godard at the peak of his skills.

There's a beautiful score by Georges Delerue. Strangely, the Italian release of the film removed Delerue's music and replaced it with a vastly different one by Piero Piccioni, one of my favorite composers, but not someone I would think would be a fit for this. "Contempt" might be a good Godard film to check out as an introduction to this director. Like "Citizen Kane," "Vertigo," "Children of Paradise," "Grand Illusion," Fellini's "8 1/2" and Ford's "The Searchers," Godard's "Contempt" frequently makes the list of international film critic's Top Ten Films of All Time.
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9/10
Goddard at his best.
elhaarpo627 June 2005
Must see for fans of either Bardot or Goddard. Criterion edition packed full of useful extras. The film first appears to be very dull and boring but has to be watched a second or third time to be fully appreciated. One of Bardot's finest works next to Le'Verite. A special treat is to watch the master Fritz Lang at work. The whole idea that Goddard was able to convince him to get involved with this film is a testament to the fact that quality film making does not fade over time. Also filming on location in these exotic locations was an added bonus to see along with Bardot who at this point in her career was seriously considering retiring. Awesome film and a pleasure to watch.
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1/10
A totally dreadful film
newcastleboy-12 November 2008
Newcastle Film Society showed this movie last night. What can I say about it, apart from being totally and utterly bored. First, this movie received very bad reviews when it was released, it was panned by critics worldwide and by the public. I'd only seen Breathless, which I think is an interesting film, and one I could watch over again. "Contempt" on the other hand had very flat dialogue story, Jack Palance was utterly wasted with his overacting, and the cinematography which some describe as "stunning" appears very flat and uninteresting. I didn't like the story much.. I noticed Leonard Maltin's movie guide gave this film 3.5 stars. I'd give it 1/4 stars - it was horrid! Oh, and before I forget 25 people walked out...
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