Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Contempt: DVD Review

Contempt (1963), originally titled Le Mepris, is a film which details the hopelessly tangled, failing relationship between a playwright--currently contemplating selling out as a screen-doctor for a Hollywood film based on The Odyssey--and his wife. It's a sort of mini-scale odyssey of arguments and miscommunications, revealed and hidden emotions.

It's also director Jean-Luc Godard's ironic statement about the direction of cinema at the beginning of the sixties: he uses gigantic and dramatic, sweeping Cinemascope to film a petty, domestic argument inside an undecorated apartment, a segment which occupies the majority of the film. Fritz Lang, who plays himself, says at one point, "This cinemascope. It can only film snakes and coffins. For filming human beings it's useless." Jack Palance is spot-on perfect (a back-handed compliment, I suppose) as the shudderingly sleazy, bombastic, small-minded producer.

Bardot looks great, pouting her way though the film, delivering an interesting, layered and intriguing naturalistic performance as the wife who slowly develops an overwhelming contempt for her husband.

But in the end I found the film a little too cinema-world insular and self-reflexive. Bardot is beautiful to look at, but some of the nudity feels cynically exploitative of the audience and, at the same time, cynically mocking film audiences for letting themselves be exploited. And ultimately, I found the "contempt" of the title, the Bardot character's unexplained and unexplainable contempt for her husband, a little too vague and nebulous to maintain my interest.

FilmStocker Rating: C


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