Le Mépris/ Contempt (1963) operates in sun-soaked, colorful betrayal. Jean-Luc Godard’s rebuke to the film industry, wrapped in a tale of a crumbling marriage is set in a warm climate, but cold to its core. In a new 4K Ultra HD from Lionsgate, that juxtaposition between beauty and despair has never been more vibrant.
Godard always presents something for the eyes to feast upon in this story of a playwright (Michel Piccoli) who is contemplating writing a script for a crass American film producer. In a moment, his young wife (Brigitte Bardot) begins to question his fidelity to her and in his failure to recognize that, begins to lose her. The beautiful, but wistful score by Georges Delerue, one of the most magnificent in cinema, perfectly sets the tone of beauty coupled with tragedy. The striking imagery of the setting in Capri, and Bardot’s beauty are juxtaposed with an atmosphere of loss and spiritual decay.
It’s ironic that the producer’s insistence that Godard display a nude Bardot to increase interest in the film would ultimately benefit the film. He makes her nude scenes almost comically blunt and exploitive, essentially proving his point further. Bardot wasn’t the first choice for the role and was cast in the hopes her sex appeal would sell the film, but she’s perfect for the role, because she herself was used and underestimated much like her character Camille.
It’s impossible to miss the symbolism of Fritz Lang appearing as the production’s director, a quietly frustrated man who suffers the indignity of his situation having escaped much worse from the Nazis in World War II (the tale of his film counterpart fleeing Germany after an offer of work from Joseph Goebbels was true). He is accepting of his situation and too much in love with making movies, any kind of movie, to leave a job undone.
As the tasteless producer, Jack Palance relishes the absurdity of his role, leering at footage of a naked actress frolicking in the water and mumbling to himself with delight that he “loves gods” in the same way one might show approval for a favorite band.
Le Mépris is precisely the sort of film that justifies the existence of the 4K Ultra HD format. Its luxurious look is rendered with a respectful touch: bold colors, and clean sound and images, but not so sharp a resolution that it loses the warmth of film. I had a feeling of rediscovery watching Le Mépris in this format.
The disc includes an introduction by film historian, producer, and professor Colin MacCabe.
Many thanks to Lionsgate for providing a copy of the film for review.