Starring Brigitte Bardot, then at the height of her fame, and Michel Piccoli as a married couple tearing the last strips off a failing marriage, Le Mépris
is both one of Jean-Luc Godard's most accessible films and perhaps his most excoriating and emotionally raw. Godard and his regular cinematographer Raoul Coutard (lensman for most of the greatest films of the New Wave) splashed out the budget for this international co-production on Bardot's salary and gorgeous CinemaScope photography to capture the Italian setting's intense beauty, bright as a knife.
The nominal story concerns the film production of an adaptation of Homer's Odyssey, on which Piccoli is the scriptwriter, much to the disgust of his wife Camille (Bardot) who preferred life when he merely wrote novels. Hired by Jack Palance's swaggering American producer to adapt the Greek epic for a film to be directed by the august Fritz Lang (director of M, here playing himself), Paul inadvertently sets in motion the elements which will unravel his marriage, earning his wife's contempt (the closest translation of the French word "mépris"). Soon, the tenderness of the film's opening sequence--wherein they loll naked on a bed as she coquettishly solicits his approval of each of her body parts--gives way to harrowing bickering, the meat of film's central 35-minute scene which will induce pained winces in anyone who has ever been through a bitter split-up. If that sounds harrowing, be reassured that Le Mépris is not without its lighter moments and joys: Godard's trademarked musings on the nature of cinema, Bardot looking exquisitely chic in a selection of soigné little outfits, Lang bemusedly quoting the German poet Hölderlin and Bertolt Brecht. As mannered as the New Wave posturings now seem, Le Mépris still looks unbeatably stylish, its themes as eternal as Homer and the Capri landscape. --Leslie Felperin
An aspiring playwright, Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) finds himself caught between the creative director (Fritz Lang playing himself) and the crass producer Prokosch (Jack Palance) on a movie version of Homer's 'The Odyssey'. While the director wants to faithfully re-create Homer's world, the producer waves his chequebook and wants more mermaids. When Paul finds himself swayed by the power of the producer's money, he finds his wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) begins to regard him with increasing contempt.