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Contempt A film production of The Odyssey causes friction in a... MORE > $12.95 Regularly $19.99 Buy Now

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If you're somebody who shudders at the mention of Jean-Luc Godard or maybe have never even heard the name then we've got a film for you. Actually even if you're a Godard-o-phile then you'll be interested because it's one of his greatest efforts finally presented in a worthy form. This is 1963's Contempt (Le Mepris), just released in a sterling double-DVD from Criterion. The film was to some degree Godard's attempt to make a commercial feature--"a new traditional film," according to the amazing trailer--and comes complete with name stars (Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance), in Technicolor and widescreen, with some serious financial backing, and following a more or less straight-forward story adapted from a famous novelist (Alberto Moravia, who described his book as "a nice, vulgar one for a train journey, full of classical, old-fashioned sentiments").

But the very idea of Godard Lite is unthinkable from one of the movies' least compromised directors and Contempt is no exception. He famously acceded to the producers' request that there be a Bardot nude scene but in such a non-prurient manner that the producers probably wished they hadn't asked. The rest of the film is full of Godard's idiosyncratic tracking shots, musings on the nature of cinema, endless cultural references (Homer to Dante to Dean Martin) and sudden plot jumps. More importantly Contempt is a mature, deeply emotional look at at love in various forms.

The story is fairly simple. Paul (Michel Piccoli) is a writer brought to Capri by a commerce-minded producer (Jack Palance) to spice up a film version of The Odyssey. His wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) comes along with him but on location they find their marriage starting to crumble. As usual with Godard, though, a dense pattern of relationships builds through the images and dialogue that deepens the story. Georges Delerue's lushly sad music is a perfect fit and so is the location choice of the austere, cliff-hugging house designed by writer Curzio Malaparte, a one-time Fascist later turned Communist. (Malaparte willed the house to the People's Republic of China--which perhaps attracted Godard's budding political interests--but the writer's heirs had the donation set aside in court. The house was recently restored.)

For years, Contempt was available in the US only in a shoddy videotape that was not only dubbed (perhaps not a major sin since parts of the film are already in English) but panned-and-scanned, all the more unacceptable since Contempt has perhaps the most famous remark ever uttered about CinemaScope with Fritz Lang's comment: "It wasn't made for people. It's only good for snakes and funerals." (Contempt was actually shot in Franscope, a French variant of CinemaScope with the same image dimensions.) But in the late 90s, the film was touched up and restored under the auspices of Martin Scorsese for a revelatory theatrical release. Now you can watch a sparkling transfer on DVD along with Criterion's usual array of extras. The film itself comes with three audio options: the original French and English soundtrack, a complete English dub, and a commentary by critic Robert Stam. The second disc is filled with first-rate extras: an hour-long conversation between Godard and Lang called The Dinosaur and the Baby, two short documentaries made during Contempt's filming, longer interviews with Godard and Lang separately, a recent interview with cinematographer Raoul Coutard, a demonstration of how the pan-and-scanning altered the original widescreen image, and the wonderful, pure-Godard trailer mentioned above. In short, the Contempt DVD is something no film lover will want to miss.

For more information about Contempt, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Contempt, go to TCM Shopping.

by Lang Thompson