Le Mépris review – Jean-Luc Godard versus marriage and the film industry
Brigitte Bardot reminds us what all the fuss was about, alongside Jack Palance and Michel Piccoli, in this restored version of Godard’s 1963 classic
Sunday 3 January 2016 08.00 GMT
first saw Le Mépris many years ago in a print so faded that everything was pale pink; it felt like gazing at an artefact from an immeasurably distant past. Watching the film now, with its reds and Mediterranean blues restored to their full intensity, the film is still redolent of a lost antiquity, not least because Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 feature is so steeped in melancholy and a sense of mourning.
Ostensibly adapted from Alberto Moravia’s novel Contempt, the film stars Michel Piccoli as writer Paul, selling his soul to work for US producer Prokosch, played by a magnificently overbearing Jack Palance. This tycoon is a philistine so monstrous that he dares rage at no less a deity than the great Fritz Lang (playing himself), whom he’s hired to direct a movie of The Odyssey.
Brigitte Bardot, meanwhile, is Paul’s wife Camille, the Penelope to Paul’s modern-day Ulysses – but she’s also Bardot. The star’s explosive physical appeal is analysed in an opening nude scene that was at once Godard’s sop to his producers, and a self-reflexively overt exercise in sex-symbol objectification. It’s a Godard film, after all: BB, the film reminds us, stands for both Brigitte Bardot and Bertolt Brecht.
Le Mépris features some of the most imposing exteriors in 60s cinema, shot by Raoul Coutard around the extraordinary Villa Malaparte on Capri – not so much a house, more a landscape installation. The centrepiece of the BFI Southbank’s new Godard season, Le Mépris is arguably the director’s only film that could bring tears to your eyes – not least because of Georges Delerue’s sublime score. It’s also a peerless source of style tips – watch Piccoli and learn how to wear your trilby “comme Dean Martin”.