Brigitte Bardot stars in Contempt (France, 1963), Jean-Luc Godard’s one and only flirtation with big budget studio production.
At the conclusion of Band of Outsiders, Godard’s voice promises that “My next film with be in Technicolor and CinemaScope.” As it turns out, that was his previous film as well, this unlikely meeting between Godard’s anti-Hollywood sensibility and the showman aesthetic of (uncredited) producer Joseph E. Levine in an international co-production about the clash between art and commerce, the politics of artistic integrity and compromise, and the dissolution of love. To meet his producer’s demands, Godard added an opening bedroom scene and inserted pin-up style nude shots of Bardot and then incorporates them into a comment on the very process of filmmaking compromise.
Bardot has never been better as a young wife who feels betrayed by her writer husband (Michel Piccoli), who is being courted by the same smug Hollywood producer (Jack Palance, wonderfully crude and arrogant) who is seducing her. Fritz Lang plays the director, named Fritz Lang, a European legend shooting a version of The Odyssey on the Mediterranean.
Shot in hard, bright colors on a widescreen canvas, it’s stately and controlled where Godard’s earlier films were immediate and felt off-the-cuff, a gorgeous film in the key of alienation.
In French with English subtitles
The Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD releases include an introduction by Godard scholar Colin MacCabe and the essential archival documentary The Dinosaur and the Baby (1967), a filmed interview/conversation between Jean-Luc Godard and Fritz Lang that was also featured on Criterion’s earlier DVD special edition (now out of print). Godard has great respect for Lang, but Lang has almost as much for Godard and the give and take chemistry changes from master and acolyte to two artists comparing philosophies. Also features two well-produced new documentaries (“Once Upon A Time There Was…Contempt” and “Contempt…Tenderly”) and an archival 15-minute interview with Lang, plus a booklet with an essay by Ginette Vicendeau.