Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Contempt (1963)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Contempt (1963, Fr./It.) (aka Le Mepris, or Il Disprezzo)

In New Wave film-maker Jean-Luc Godard's unrated, CinemaScopic European import - a drama and "film-within-a-film" about a doomed and crumbling marriage, with a controversial opening shot of Brigitte Bardot's nudity - ordered by Italian producer Carlo Ponti, to capitalize on her immense popularity:

  • the unique and unorthodox opening title credits sequence (filming was conducted in the backlot at Rome's Cinecitta Studios, with the movie camera eventually peering down directly into the film's camera), narrated (in voice-over) by director Jean-Luc Godard himself: "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 André Bazin, 'substitutes for our gaze at a world more in harmony with our desires.' Contempt is a story of that world"
Prologue with Nude Brigitte Bardot
  • the film's added, jarring prologue with an exploitative extended view of a fully nude, unsatisfied, faithless and bored wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot), a former typist, lying face down in bed with her unhappy French playwright husband Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) - the scene, shot with a red colored filter (and then blue and white, the colors of the French and US flags?), and emphasizing her shapely bottom, became desexualized with her long questioning dialogue and cataloguing of her own objectified, dehumanized body parts: ("See my feet in the mirror?...Think they're pretty?...You like my ankles?...And my knees too?...And my thighs?...Do you see my bottom in the mirror?... Do you think I have nice buttocks?...And my breasts? You like them?...Which do you like better, my breasts or my nipples?...And do you like my shoulders?...I don't think they're round enough...And my arms?...And my face?...All of it. My mouth, my eyes, my nose, my ears?...Then you love me totally")
  • the scene in the movie theatre where Camille and Paul met with hired German-Austrian director Fritz Lang (as Himself), and Lang's arrogant, playboyish, vulgar and despotic American film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) to screen the rushes from their filming of Odysseus, an adaptation/remake of Homer's The Odyssey directed by Lang; [Note: it was the tale of Ulysses (Paul) separated from his wife Penelope (Camille) - Ulysses was protected by Minerva but threatened by Neptune, his mortal enemy]; so far, the film rushes were mostly of slowly rotating classic Greek statues with painted eyes; there was a difference of opinion between Lang and Prokosch on the type of production: should it be an art-house film or a cheesier, more commercially-profitable production?; during the screening, Prokosch smiled lasciviously when he viewed a nude swimming 'mermaid' (Siren: Linda Veras) - he did not want a production that adapted a great piece of literature with classic views of the beauty of ancient Greece, but an exploitative film about beautiful, nude buxom women in exotic locales
  • at the end of the screening room scene, Prokosch had his assistant-translator Francesca Vanini (Giorgia Moll) bend over, so that he could use her back as a writing surface, as he wrote out a check for $10,000, and offered the salary to Paul - to rework and perform script-doctoring on the film's screenplay, to change it to his liking ("I wanna know, a yes or no, if you're gonna rewrite that stuff")
  • afterwards in the studio's backlot (plastered with movie posters), the scene of Paul submissively agreeing with the insistent Prokosch that he would take a taxi: ("Paul, you won't be comfortable back here, so why don't you take a taxi?"), while his wife Camille would ride in the producer's sporty, two-seater red Alfa Romeo convertible - a key turning point in the relationship between the couple; when Paul finally arrived after a delay, Camille untrustingly asked: "We've been waiting a half hour. What kept you?"
  • the film's centerpiece - an extended, thirty-minute apartment sequence highlighting the slow-burning and inevitable fracturing and break-up of the romance between the forever-bickering couple: the pouting and moody Camille (wearing a dark wig at times) and Paul; he asserted: "I can tell you've stopped loving me," and she ultimately and contemptuously denounced him, as they sat across from each other and the camera continually tracked back and forth between them as they sat on opposite sides of a white lamp that Paul impatiently flipped on and off: "It's true. I don't love you anymore. There's nothing to explain. I don't love you...Now it's over...All I know is I don't love you anymore...I despise you! That's really what I feel for you. That's why the love's gone. I despise you. And you disgust me when you touch me" - the motive was unclear, although it was most probable that she thought her husband had debased himself and offered her favors to Prokosch
  • the audition sequence in a movie theatre (the Silver Cine, with its marquee announcing Rossellini's Viaggio In Italia (1954, It.) (aka Journey to Italy), visible during the characters' departure) in front of a blank screen, where Camille and Paul arrived to meet with Lang and Prokosch - as they walked down the center aisle, a singer danced across the stage while mouthing a pop song's lyrics, although she was dreadfully out of sync; as the camera panned back and forth across the aisle (Camille and Lang on the left, and Paul and Prokosch on the right), suddenly and unrealistically (although it was a clear reminder by the director that this was a film in progress), the musical soundtrack cut off, and the conversation between Prokosch and Paul was overheard - a veiled comment about the artificiality of dubbed sound in the movies: (Prokosch: "I reread The Odyssey last night...and I finally found something I've been looking for, for a long, long time....Something that's just as indispensable to the movies as it is to real life...Poetry...Do you remember what I told you on the phone?...) - his words were translated (often inaccurately) into French by Francesca
  • the film's conclusion - set on the Isle of Capri at the rocky outcropping structure of Casa Malaparte where filming of The Odyssey was occurring; Paul happened to note Camille's infidelity when he peered over a flat rooftop into a window where he saw Prokosch embracing and kissing Camille
Camille's Infidelity with Prokosch
  • Pavel was resigned to losing Camille to Prokosch, and realized that he had sold himself out - solely because of his desperate need for money; after finding her sunbathing in the nude, he told her (without apology and with indifference) that the two times he encouraged her to be with Prokosch were no big deal: ("I know why you despise me. When I took the taxi the other day, you thought I let you go with him on purpose. Same thing on the boat earlier. Don't be stupid! I have faults, but that's not one"), but she couldn't see him as a 'man' anymore: ("You're not a man. Anyhow, it's too late. I've changed my mind about you...I'll never forgive you. I loved you so much. Now it's impossible. I hate you because you're incapable of moving me") - removing her yellow robe, she jumped naked into the blue Mediterranean water and swam away from him, as he rested against a rock
  • Paul heard the words of Camille's farewell letter - in voice-over: "Dear Paul, I found your revolver and took the bullets out. If you won't leave, I will. Since Prokosch has to return to Rome, I'm going with him. Then I'll probably move into a hotel alone. Take care. Farewell. Camille" (seen a few moments later in extreme close-up)
  • the unexpected and tragic parting of their ways: Camille accompanied Prokosch in his red sports car, but shortly later, they had a fatal car accident when they crashed into the connector between two sections of a tanker-trailer (off-screen)
Farewell - and Death of Camille with Prokosch
  • meanwhile, before leaving for Rome to finish writing his play, Paul bid farewell to Lang, who was setting up for the next shot (Lang described the view over the empty horizon of the Mediterranean: "Ulysses' gaze when he first sees his homeland again, Ithaca") - the film's final words were: "Quiet on the set! (Silencio)" (with Godard playing the film's assistant director)
The Concluding Scene on the Set

Opening Titles Sequence

Film Screening of Odysseus

American Film Producer Jeremy Prokosch
(Jack Palance)

Nude Siren Mermaid

Writing Check on Assistant's Back

Prokosch's Invitation to Camille to Ride in His Sports Car

The Breaking Up of a Marriage: Apartment Sequence

The Stage Audition Sequence

Camille Jumping into Water Naked


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