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Contempt CinemaDisc LaserDisc Movie Review

Contempt CinemaDisc LaserDisc Movie Review

August 17, 2011

by DaDon

Godard French LaserDisc Movie

Godard French LaserDisc Movie

My relationship with Jean Luc-Godard’s “Contempt” is complicated… It’s Godard, so I love it; but it’s also the Godard movie where you most clearly see the greedy hands of Hollywood. And ironically, that’s what it’s about: how Hollywood puts a price on a man, and how it ruins his marriage. In an equal-and-opposite manner that seems only right to describe Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave style, « Contempt » sticks out as his most personal yet most Hollywood-bastardized film. There can be no greater praise than the fact that Godard stubbornly manages to foil his producers’ ideals in a highly stylized autobiography, while still bending to the weight of the almighty dollar (this might be that last time you see the phrase « almighty dollar »).

The film is based off of an Italian novel entitled « Il Disprezzo », which accounts for my amazement at the movie’s parallels with Godard’s own life; it is a movie about making a movie, and about the unmaking of a marriage – both of which Godard knew well.Michel Piccoli plays Paul Javal, a French screenwriter who is rewriting the screenplay Odyssey by American producer Jeremiah Prokosch (Jack Palance). The director of this film is Fritz Lang, played by himself. Paul’s life is further complicated when he introduces his wife Camille (played by Bridgitte Bardot) to Prokosch, who takes a liking to her. Paul even pointedly leaves the two alone together (while he goes off to find Prokosch’s Italian assistant), which brings Camille’s resentment and the film’s namesake – contempt.

So now Paul must battle to keep his integrity as an artist, and his marriage. Ironically, this battle is depicted between random scenes of a bare Bardot, only included due to the force of Godard’s producers Carlo Ponti and Joseph E. Levine. Hmm, I wonder who won that battle? But of course, Godard is not that simple. Despite the Hollywood money being thrown at him to make a film against a beautiful Mediterranean background, Godard brings us to a cramped Rome apartment for the film’s centerpiece, as if to force Hollywood into a compromise.

In this scene, the parallels between the film and Godard’s own crumbling marriage are most apparent; If you are a Godard fan, you will know Anna Karina from past films, including « Alphaville, » « Vivre sa Vie, » and « Pierrot Le Fou. » She and Godard were married in 1961 – and divorced by 1967. You can see reflections of their own shattering marriage in « Contempt ». Bardot dons a short black wig during the movie’s climactic marital spat, recalling the image of Karina.

The crack’s in Paul’s marriage are matched with the fractures between Paul’s Prokosch’s and Lang’s plans for The Odyssey, an argument carried on in French, English, Italian, and German. Just as Paul seemingly prostitutes his wife, he sells his own artistic license.

Just as with the various fractures between characters in the film, my opinion is split. I adore Godard’s devices, and the way he wraps a film within a film within his own life and yet a deeper universal theme about how we all strive for balance and freedom; but through the layers and fractures that make the film, I’m left with a sense of distance and impersonality that doesn’t exist in his other works.

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