A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
Paul Javal is a writer who is hired to make a script for a new movie about Ulysses more commercial, which is to be directed by Fritz Lang and produced by Jeremy Prokosch. But because he let his wife Camille drive with Prokosch and he is late, she believes, he uses her as a sort of present for Prokosch to get get a better payment. So the relationship ends.Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #171. See more »
It is possible that all "mistakes" in the film that involve visible equipment are intentional, or at least intentionally uncorrected: the film, after all, is about the artificiality of making a film, and the initial credit sequence shows filmmakers shooting the film itself. See more »
Paul (Picoli) is hired by vulgarian US producer Jerry Prokosh (Palance) to rewrite a screenplay for his adaptation, which Fritz Lang (himself) insists on shooting in a hyper-stylized, mythological fashion. Paul's relationship with his trophy wife Camille disintegrates as she feels abandoned by him to Prokosh's advances, and sees him subdue himself to these great men.
It is about film-making - of course! - it is about the plight of the artist, but where it succeeds most is in the carefully examined slow destruction of Camille and Paul's marriage. Raoul Coutard's cinemascope photography, filled with lush colors, only serves to highlight how little Paul is and how out of his depth he is. He and his wife hide it in different manners: Paul by trying to assert intellectual superiority over his wiser-than-she-appears wife, therefor earning her contempt. She hides by relying on her sensuality.
Godard typically references his love for film in a way that many will find pedantic, and the lush score isn't always wisely used, overwhelming and sometimes even obtrusive. But thankfully, Godard's message and cast survive the director's pseudo-intellectual short-comings. Bardot is perfectly cast as the ignorant innocent who strives to appear and be smarter than she is (even sporting a brunette whig at some point, in what is really a sad moment of self-loathing), but fails. Camille never convinces when she speaks, but the pain in those eyes is intensely real. Picoli's Paul is easier to sympathize with, as the "reasonable" whose every move to please anyone dooms him further. It is a cruel lesson and warning about relationships.
The film also serves a more sarcastic and amusing (and far more conscious) duel between Palance's Prokosh, superbly vulgar and dramatic, and Lang, who becomes a wise and immensely charismatic figure that stands against compromise. It is sad that this was the German master's only performance in front of the camera.
Le Mépris is slow, and if you get caught too much in Goddard's referencing and hyper-stylization, it will bore you. But if you really follow these characters, you're in for a unique, edifying and sometimes unnervingly uncomfortable ride.
Must be seen several times under different angles to be fully appreciated.
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