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Film / Contempt

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Contempt (original French title: Le Mépris) is a 1963 French movie directed by Jean-Luc Godard and starring Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli. It's based on the novel A Ghost at Noon by Alberto Moravia.

Dissatisfied with the direction the cinematic adaptation of The Odyssey he's financing is taking under director Fritz Lang (As Himself), American producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) hires French playwright Paul Javal (Piccoli) to write a more commercial script. Paul tries to essentially sell his wife Camille (Bardot) to Prokosch, to get a better payment for the script. Camille, pissed with the treatment she's being given, becomes more and more aloof towards her husband.


  • Adaptational Name Change: Paul Javal was named Riccardo Molteni in the original novel, his wife Camille was named Emilia, and the producer Jeremy Prokosch was called Battista.
  • Adaptational Nationality: The characters were all Italian in the novel.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: invoked The conflict between director Fritz Lang and producer Jeremy Prokosch revolves around their different interpretations of Odysseus.
    • Prokosch believes that Odysseus took part in the Trojan War and subsequently went on a long journey to get away from his wife Penelope. Only when Penelope starts taking a liking to her suitors does Odysseus return to Ithaca and slaughter her suitors to win her back.
    • Lang has a more traditional view of Odysseus: Odysseus is nothing more than a clever man who dearly loves Penelope. To Lang, Prokosch's deconstruction of Odysseus goes against the ancient Greeks' perception of Odysseus.
  • As Himself: Fritz Lang, the director of the Odyssey film.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The very first scene in the film does this, with a long static shot of a camera on a dolly doing a slow tracking shot from the middle distance into the foreground. When it stops, the cameraman in the scene swivels the camera so that it's pointing directly at the viewer.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Javal grabs a revolver after a fight with Camille. It ends up becoming a Red Herring since Camille takes the bullets out before he can use it.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Camille throws one of these in a deadpan manner, to prove that she looks good swearing.
  • Cool Old Guy: Fritz Lang as himself; weary, humorously resigned to the bullshit spouted by his Jerkass producer, sympathetic to Paul's marital problems but above all determined to get his film made.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Actually Creative Opening Credits: they're not shown on screen at all but read out by Godard himself.
    Jean-Luc Godard: It's based on the novel by Alberto Moravia. It features Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli. Jack Palance and Giorgia Moll, too. And Fritz Lang. Raoul Coutard did the photography. Georges Delerue wrote the score. The sound was recorded by William Sivel. Agnes Guillemot did the editing. Philippe Dussart and Carlo Lastricati were unit managers. It's a film by Jean-Luc Godard. It was shot in CinemaScope and printed in color by GTC Labs. Georges de Beauregard and Carlo Ponti produced it for Rome-Paris Films, Films Concordia and Compagnia Cinematografia Champion. "The cinema, "said Andre Bazin, "substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires. " Contempt is a story of that world.
  • Cunning Linguist: Francesca, the translator who speaks all four languages spoken in the movie.
  • Downer Ending: Camille's and Paul's marriage falls apart and Camille dies in a car accident along with Prokosch.
  • Foreshadowing: Prokosch's analysis of Odysseus as someone who hates his wife parallels the growing rift between Javal and Camille. In essence, the three characters—Prokosch, Javal, and Camille—take on the roles of various characters from The Odyssey. Like Penelope's suitors, Prokosch dies at the end of the story.
  • A God Am I: Prokosch's occupation as film producer appears to have gone to his head.
    Prokosch: I like Gods. I know exactly how they feel.
  • The Heart: Francesca, being a translator in a tense workplace.
  • Large Ham: Jack Palance doesn't chew the scenery so much as he eviscerates it as Jerry Prokosh.
  • Le Film Artistique: The Odyssey film seems to be this—little dialogue, long shots of painted-over busts rotating for no particular reason. Contempt itself manages to avert the stereotypes commonly associated with this.
  • Ms. Fanservice: You'd expect this from Camille, being Brigitte Bardot, but the film's single most Fanservice-y scene is the opening one, inserted at the request of the producers because they didn't think that the film was titillating enough. Camille lies naked on her stomach on a bed, next to fully-clothed Paul, and asks him which parts of her body he likes. Godard shot the scene first with a red filter, then with no filter, then with a blue filter, which successfully distracts the viewer from Bardot's body and diverts attention towards what's going on with the whole filter thing.
  • Multinational Team: The team working on the film within a film is composed of Italians, Germans, French people and at least one American. It's commonplace nowadays, but at the time it was kind of a novelty. It justifies the film's memorable closing shot: a long take of the deep blue sea and sky.
    French assistant director: [offscreen, in French] ...Silence.
    Italian assistant director: [offscreen, on a megaphone] Silencio.
    [Cut to end title card saying "FIN".]
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Paul leaves Camille alone with Prokosch in the hope that Prokosch will seduce her, which will make it easier for Paul to get paid more. All that happens is that Camille loses all respect for Paul and their marriage collapses.
  • Offscreen Crash: The car crash at the end, taking both the lives of Camille and Prokosch, is only heard while the camera pans over a close-up of Camille's fare-well letter to Paul. The camera returns to the crash scene right after, showing both characters lying motionless in their convertible.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Prokosch and Fritz Lang.
  • Shout-Out: Paul lampshades why he is wearing a hat and smoking a cigar in the bath.
    Paul: It's just to look like Dean Martin in Some Came Running.
  • Show Within a Show: Film Within A Film, of the "The characters are involved on its production" type.
  • Smug Snake: Prokosch.
  • Tactful Translation: Francesca does this sometimes, to omit the more offensive things the other characters have to say to each other.
  • Take That!:
    • Lang saying that CinemaScope was made for snakes and funerals. Godard shot this film in CinemaScope against his will.
    • The entire character of Prokosch was Godard's Take That against the film's producer Joseph E. Levine, whose name is significantly absent from the credits (the closest he gets to a credit is Francesca mentioning that he telephoned Prokosch early in the film).
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The original trailer included a shot of Camille and Prokosch lying dead in their crashed car.
  • Tranquil Fury: Camille, the source of the title's meaning.

Alternative Title(s): Le Mepris