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Contempt

A profoundly sad yet beautiful fable about the cinema, CONTEMPT is the story of Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli), a former writer of detective stories who has become a screenwriter of little consequence. He claims that he longs to write for the stage but he believes that his beautiful young wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot), expects more financial rewards than the theater can offer. Paul is approached by crass American film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) to perform a rewrite on the screenplay for his production of Homer's Odyssey. The film is to be directed by the legendary German director Fritz Lang (playing himself). Paul accepts the job, but Camille is disappointed at his lack of conviction in the assignment, even though he ostensibly accepted the job to benefit her. She begins to manifest a profound mistrust of him that is never really explained. After a strained social situation in which Paul acts in a less than noble manner, Camille turns to Prokosch to pursue what appears to be an affair. An adaptation of Alberto Moravia's novel A Ghost at Noon, CONTEMPT concerns itself with the filmmaking process, the nature of film authorship, and the art of adapting a novel for the screen. Godard favors a personal idiosyncratic approach to filmmaking and adaptation as is evidenced in his utilizing Moravia and Homer's work to relate the characters in the film to the people in his own life: Paul, Camille, and Prokosch evoke Odysseus, Penelope, and Poseidon while also suggesting Godard, his wife (and favored female lead at that time) Anna Karina, and distributor Joseph E. Levine. The genesis of the project is worth recounting. Approached by Italian producer Carlo Ponti about a possible collaboration, the New Wave auteur suggested an adaptation of the Moravia novel with Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra in the leads. The pair refused. Ponti then suggested Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Godard refused. Eventually Bardot was chosen because of the potential financial rewards that could be garnered from revealing her celebrated delectable flesh on screen. However, Godard had the last laugh: the most extensive nudity is in the film's subversively tame opening scene. Committed to a personal cinema, Godard cast himself as Lang's assistant director and used the great auteur as his mouthpiece. CONTEMPT is beautifully photographed in Cinemascope with sun dappled color by Raoul Coutard and Georges Delerue provides the haunting score.