Contempt

France - 1963

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

Brigitte Bardot pouts, Jack Palance sneers, and Fritz Lang ponders where his career went wrong. Yes, it's the revival of Jean-Luc Goddard's classic and brilliant study of human interaction, "Contempt." Racy for its time, it's still gasp-worthy as Bardot struts her nudity through the mind games she plays with hubby Michael Piccoli, a would-be man of letters reduced hack writing. But it's not Bardot's rarely-clothed pulchritude that packs the wallop. It's the way her character uses it like a rapier to exact revenge and show, yes, contempt, for the way her husband has reduced her to a sex object.

Hubby receives an offer from American film producer Jack Palance for a last-minute rewrite of "The Odyssey." There's symbolism for you. The director, Fritz Lang, playing himself, has arted it up beyond Palance's ability to fathom it. Meanwhile, Palance takes one look at Bardot and is smitten. Piccoli, who needs the money, blithely chooses not to notice. Indeed, he throws them together as much as possible.

Bardot fumes, yet doesn't confront him directly. Instead, she toys with him, telling him that she's fallen out of love with him, then that she was kidding, then that she wasn't, ad infinitem until she's provoked him out of complacency.

Discovering the depths and manifestations of contempt that these characters feel for themselves, for each other, and for their lives, played out under the impish and proto-surreal direction of Goddard, is a delight dear reader, the which I would not dream of spoiling for you.

And yet, I would be remiss not to point out another sort of contempt, a meta-contempt, if you will on the part of Goddard himself. Bear in mind as Bardot's derriere is on display throughout "Contempt" something that her screen husband will say late in the film. He's watching an actress swimming au naturel for the camera and the thinks, ah, yes, contemptuosly how amazing movies are. They render elastic any actress' morals. Show her a camera and she will eagerly show you her behind. Goddard's contempt, it seems, is boundless.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 8/20/97



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