Le Mepris 1963

Le Mepris 1963

Contempt (French :Le Mepris ) is a film directed by Jean-Luc Godard in 1963. It is one of his notable works and his sixth feature film released. Sight & Sound critic Colin MacCabe  said Contempt was “the greatest work of art produced in postwar Europe” The film is especially known for its extended apartment sequence. It stars Brigitte Bardot, Michel Picolli, Jack Palance and legendary filmaker Fritz Lang. (Godard had been known to add more film references via quotes than any of his new wave counterparts.)

Contempt was made during the ‘New Wave’ of French Cinema that birthed during the 50’s and 60’s. Italian Neorealism influenced these new filmmakers; films made in real locations with natural lighting and real people rather then trained actors. Hollywood films of the 30’s and 40’s also influenced them.

This ‘New wave’ of French directors attempted to veer from the conventional rules of filmmaking and wanted to create new standard instead. This is exactly what Jean-Luc Godard did.

Contempt has two parts to it. The self-reflective look at cinema and the deteriorating relationship between husband and wife which could be related to Godard’s own personal life.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 9.36.26 PM

At the very first scene, we can see what Godard thinks of Hollywood and of cinema. The American producer Jeremy Prokosh proclaims, “Only yesterday there were kings here…this is my last kingdom!”  This line is then interpreted to mean C’est la fin du cinema [It is the end of cinema]. This is further emphasize when Jeremy then says that he sees himself as a god. Godard refers to the sad reality of Hollywood moviemaking industry. Where the producers are dictators that only care about profit and thus stymie the creativity of the director. It is good to note that Contempt’s American producer, Joseph E. Levine, forced on the additions of the opening nudity scenes. Thus the first scene could be seen insult of the cinema business.

Paul says in french. “like all producers, you don’t know” probably refering to Joseph E Levine

Note: Brigitte Bardot was a sex icon then.

Bardot was the global sex symbol then, marketing herself relied on the reaffirmation of male audiences’s desire and gaze capture her within the film. However, Contempt destroyed the pleasure of the “Bardot Effect” when the male gaze is subverted through the denial to allow camera access to spectacular, or even clear shots of Bardot’s body. 

In the film, characters are used to establish new identity for actors. One example would be the wig Bardot’s character, Camille put on. This diverted the attention and focus of Bardot’s iconic features, her blonde hair, thus disrupting the experience of her presence in the film. 

In the scene where Jeremy shouts at Lang, “you cheated me, Fritz. That’s not what’s in the script!” We can confirm that Godard portrays Jeremy as Joseph E. Levine, who had shouted at him for not including any nude shots. In revenge, Godard showed tons of skin but no eroticism. ( In the very first scene)

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Godard uses colour to disrupt the marital intimacy between Camille and Paul. He changes filter from blue to red abruptly perhaps to show the coming tension between the two lovers.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 9.48.20 PM

Contempt is known most for the couple’s half hour argument scene in the apartment. In the scene where the couple are seated and quarreling, Godard constantly moves the camera back and forth between the two of them. He periodically cuts to seemingly unmotivated flashback, fantasies and even a flash-forward.  I find that this actually prevents us from simply following the story.

(The part where Camille is naked )

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 9.41.24 PMHowever, Godard’s framing is fantastic. Notice how the characters come move apart and come together, and how physical objects seem to divide them, or how the camera swings from one lover to another. Perhaps the constant swinging between lovers might mean that the couple is too indecisive and if they would just sit still, they could solve their problem.Godard uses strongly opposing colours such as red sofa’s and white walls to increase the the feeling of anxiety  and camille’s contempt .

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“The tension of the scene and of their struggle culminates in an interrogation, shown in an anxious shot that pans backwards and forwards [tracking laterally] between Paul and Camille, who is alternatively switching a lamp on and off” (Guarner, p. 59).  With only 1 lamp on and off to show rhythm, a sense of tragedy  to highlight lights and shadows of the character’s personality. It innovation at its best and it definitely makes this film part of the french new wave.

Finally, Godard does show the couples incompleteness of their lives by making them move around their entire unfinished apartment, climbing through frames without glass and moving in and out unpainted rooms. This all signifies that something important is missing from the couples lives.

Byline: Wayne is an aspiring actor and film maker that goes miles just to see people smile. He thinks he has a sense of humor and is single and ready to mingle. He should be in bed right now but still has work to do.


Jonathanrosenbaum.com. 1997. JonathanRosenbaum.com » Blog Archive » Critical Distance [on CONTEMPT]. [online] Available at: http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?p=6621 [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

Offscreen.com. 2009. Offscreen.com :: Le Mépris: Analysis of mise-en-scène – Volume 13, Issue 11. [online] Available at: http://www.offscreen.com/index.php/pages/essays/mepris_analysis/ [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

Spectacular Attraction. 2013. Things You Need to Know About Le Mépris. [online] Available at: http://drnorth.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/things-you-need-to-know-about-le-mepris/ [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

http://www.criterionconfessions.com. 2013. CONTEMPT – #171. [online] Available at: http://www.criterionconfessions.com/2012/06/contempt-171.html [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

Guarner, Jose Luis. Le Mépris (in Ian Cameron, ed., The Films of Jean-Luc Godard, Studio Vista, London, 1967), p. 54


One thought on “Contempt (Le Mepris)- Jean-Luc Godard

  1. Hi Wayne

    Good effort you’ve put in there. I see that you made a remark, stating that Brigitte Bardot was a sex icon then, I thought you could elaborate a little, especially how Contempt actually destroyed the pleasure of the “Bardot” effect. Additionally, you can also write about how a character is used to establish a new identity for the actor, taking away the supposedly focus of the film.

    I’ve added a few lines in bold.


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