September 17, 2012
Initially, the frequently naked Bardot is in love with the often shirtless and hairy-chested Piccoli. But after Piccoli agrees to leave her alone with Palance, Bardot cools toward Piccoli. They quarrel, indifferently and bitterly, and within days break up.
How others will see it. Contempt, also known by its French title Le mépris, was initially poorly received. It looks like an inexpensive film, but was actually high budget by Godard standards, likely due to Bardot's salary. Bardot was a big star at the time, and provides the major attraction for male viewers, who can enjoy her behind on more than one occasion. Moll is actually even more attractive, but unfortunately, we see less of her.
Godard had been a famous director since Breathless a few years before. But Contempt is all talk and little action, and requires either patience or belief to sit through. Many feel, as did contemporary observers (the film was ignored by the various film festivals), that the emperor has no clothes, but time has worked in its favor.
At imdb.com, the movie has 11K user votes, a respectable number for a foreign language film made nearly a half-century ago. The user votes are very high but do decline with advancing age, from 7.9 under 30 to 7.0 over 45. Godard's reputation, based on other generally overrated films, no doubt helps matters.
How I felt about it. Since I am not particularly a fan of Godard, some might think I have it in for French-language films. Not so. I am a great admirer of Luis Buñuel, and hope to see more of his films in the future. (He was Spanish but his best films were made in France.) Children of Paradise may well be the finest foreign language movie ever made. I use the term "foreign language" merely as shorthand for the more clumsy, though less Anglocentric, term "non-English language."
The obvious problem with Contempt is that it is too talky. It is also a bad sign when so much comely female flesh is on display. What we have here is precious little story. A producer seduces a woman, told from the perspective of the woman's somewhat dense husband.
Some undoubtedly believe, as does Bardot, that Piccoli could have saved his marriage if he had continually interposed himself between Bardot and Palance. This theoretical reaction by Piccoli would soon have become so amusing for the other two ends of the triangle that they would flirt outrageously in Piccoli's presence just to watch him squirm like a worm on a hook.
Palance has the money, and therefore the power. If Bardot is tired of her dull smoker husband and prefers iron-jawed Palance and his bright red convertible, there isn't much that Piccoli can do about it.
The moral of the film pretends to be that a troubled relationship is like a scab. The more you pick at it, the worse it gets. But, since Bardot has taken Palance up on his unseen offer, the actual lession is that the hottest women are the hardest to keep. Piccoli is better off without the drama and heartbreak from his fickle prize.