Jean-Luc Godards “Contempt”
Jean Luc Godards “Contempt”
Jean-Luc Godards 1963 film, “Contempt” is the history of the deterioration of a marriage. It is a love story moving backward until the point of alienation. Or as film critic Dave Kehr writes, .” It is the great un-love story of the movies” (Kehr 1997). Paul Javal, played by Michel Piccoli, is a French writer who is working as a hack-writer for Italian movies, however, he dreams of having a serious career in the theater. It is this blind ambition that becomes the cancer that begins the death of the relationship between Paul and his wife Camille, portrayed by Brigitte Bardot.
So eager is Paul to succeed, that he sells his soul to the devil, so to speak, and accepts the task of fixing a script for the American producer, Jeremy Prokosch, played by Jack Palance. The screenplay he has been hired to fix is by Friz Lang, who plays himself as writer and director of an adaptation of Ulysses. The film, being shot at Romes Cinecitta studios and the Isle of Capri, is suffering due to Prokoschs over-bearing interference.
Royal Brown writes in a 2003 “Cineaste article, that Godards title refers to the abrupt change in attitude on the part of Camilla, who feels that Paul has prostituted her to Prokosch in order to get the job, “although she refuses throughout the film to divulge her secret … Contempt then, runs on parallel but interrelated tracks: the breakdown of a major artists attempts to make his film, and the breakdown of a marriage” (Brown 2003).
Brown goes on to describe the way in which Godard shot Camille stretched nude on the bed while Paul lies fully clothed next to her. Brown says, “While the scene definitely establishes a tenderness between the two that makes the breakdown of their relationship later in the film all the more poignant and in some ways inexplicable” (Brown
Camille and Paul are sucked into a circle of contempt. One minute she tells him that she loves him and the next minute she says she no longer loves him. In an article for “Film Criticism” Paul Coates writes that Camille does this to gauge Pauls closeness to her (Coates 1998). Paul however, is lost in his own thoughts. He has alienated himself by working for Prokosch and, as Coates points out, by “choosing an intellectual inferior as his wife” (Coates 1998). Camille is a typist, and “she can easily become a haunting mere body, objectified as pornographic beauty” (Coates 1998). Although it may be clear that Camille is contemptuous of Paul, he certainly shows signs that he feels the same, as when he says, “Show women cinema and they show their behinds” (Godard 1963). Coates writes, “Contempt for her is also self-contempt, as the obsession with the behind obscures the face that might reveal the truth, the person” (Coates 1998).
The point of no return in this marriage happens in an instant. Paul is fully aware of Prokoschs attraction for Camille, yet when the American producer invites her to join him in his two-seater red sports car for a ride back to his.