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Le Mepris (Contempt)/1962

Partly out of respect to the recently passed Jean Luc Godard – and partly as there was little else to do or watch on Sunday afternoon – I took from the French section of my DVD library his Le Mepris starring Michel Piccoli, Brigitte Bardot, Fritz Lang, Jack Palance and Georgia Moll.

It’s a film within a film as the subject matter is the filming of Odysseus produced by Jerry Prokosck (Jack Palance) and directed by Fritz Lang playing himself.

Michel Piccoli plays a scriptwriter Paul, commissioned by the evil and rich Jerry for the film.

Paul is married to Camille (Brigitte Bardot)

The film opens with a naked Bardot lying on her front citing the various parts of her lovely body and enquiring of Paul whether they please him.

It’s a scene of enormous sexual intimacy. However, their relationship declines as you have the feeling – Paul certainly has – that Camille has had sex with Jerry.

That is the subtlety of French cinemas as you cannot be sure whether she has or not. In a key scene in their Rome apartment Camille makes it clear that she does not want to accompany Paul to Jerry’s villa in Capri for the filming of Odysseus.  

She does go and Paul witnesses her and Jack kissing in an open window. She returns to Rome with Jack in his open top sports car which is involved in a fatal crash with a petrol truck.

There is always a risk in re-watching a film you rate highly, but I enjoyed it.

Okay, the central scene – where love turns to contempt – is overly long and, notwithstanding her sex kitten appeal, la Bardot is a limited actress who can pout sexily but little more. However, it’s a clever film, drawing parallels with the Greek fable and the doomed relationship between Paul and Camille.

There are lush location shots of Capri and Camille swimming naked in the waters of the beautiful isle.

At roughly the same time Hayley Mills’ naked bum – of which she was self conscious – was featuring in The Family Way with James Mason in a Northern kitchen sink film.

Le Mepris is more sensual, sexual and probably more true to how films were made in the early 60s. Based on a Alberto Moravia story, it also has the better story-line. I should add that Georgia Moll as the ever willing ,multi lingual production assistant Francesca is exactly the type of person who would  actually work in that role.

Jean Luc Godard fell out with Francois Truffaut for becoming a more commercial mainstream director and abandoning the anti-establishment values of the New Wave but one of Truffaut’s best films La Nuit Americaine (“Day for Night”) was also a film within a film, with a guest appearance of Graham Greene as an insurance executive.

If you consider the other French New Wave directors – Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais, Jaques Rivetts and Eric Rihmer – the legacy of the New Wave Group was substantial.


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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts