Arts & Culture Film, Theatre & TV

The 60th Anniversary Reissue of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris aka Contempt

  • November 18, 2023
  • 6 min read
The 60th Anniversary Reissue of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris aka Contempt

Godard: The Godfather of The French New Wave

There is no God. Only the word God within Godard. “Gods didn’t create man”, said the German film director Fritz Lang in Godard’s Le Mépris, instead “Man created Gods”. ‘And God Created Woman’, namely, Brigitte Bardot, who became a screen Goddess in that her best on-screen performance next to Le Mépris 

“The greatest film in cinema history!” declared Le Monde. Le Mépris has to be Godard’s masterpiece. Stunningly remastered and re-screened on the very day of its 60th Anniversary at BFI Southbank, London, on June 2nd 2023. Selected for The Cannes Film Festival 2023, it was praised in spades when ‘newly nuanced’ into a contemporary bigger widescreen format from its original Cinemascope negatives. Stunningly regraded into a vibrant colour positive of Mediterranean blues. Add to that Raoul Coutard’s breathtaking cinematography, taking us back to the blistering Italian summer of 1963, and we have an example of unsurpassed European visual splendour. 

In late 1963 Sight & Sound magazine’s Tom Milne said that Godard proclaimed, ‘God Is a Camera’. This is how the film begins. A shot of a huge movie camera with a widescreen hood, moving towards us to fill the screen. It is as if Godard is watching us, watching his film. A spoken quotation is heard in voice-over from Godard (wrongly attributed to Cahiers Du Cinema’s André Bazin rather than Michel Mourlet). This begins the aforementioned sequence by proclaiming

“… Cinema substitutes for our gaze, a world that corresponds to our desires …”

Le Mépris features the making of a fictional Fritz Lang ‘movie-within-a-movie’ about Homer’s Odyssey as recreated within Alberto Moravia’s novel Le Mépris, which is Initially set in Rome at Cinecitta Studios. We then venture inside a 1960’s designer apartment of the two bickering central characters. They are invited to the Isle of Capri, the home of the film’s producer. Here we have the set piece of Le Mépris, namely Casa Malaparte. An architectural gem with a stepped terracotta roof, leading to a red tiled sunbathing area, perched-up high on the rocky spur of Punto Masullo, overlooking the Gulf of Salerno. The building was designed in 1938 by Adalberto Libera. One of the key architects of the Italian Modernist Movement. Add to that a sumptuously romantic score by Georges Delerue, which becomes a musical motif for Camille’s (Brigitte Bardot’s) despair at the sudden loss of her love for screenwriter Paul (Michel Piccoli) and you have the magic of a Nouvelle Vague epic unfolding. 

During the opening Cinecitta Studio scenes, we witness Camille’s mistrust of her husband after his flippant decision to allow her to be driven-off in the producer’s two-seater Alfa Romeo. This sows the seeds of distrust in his relationship with the 28-year-old former typist, and wife, Camille Javal. All reflected in the new script that Paul Javal is writing for director Fritz Lang (as himself) and the producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) that leads to a fateful conclusion. Godard’s humour features aplenty. Mainly from the crazed producer Jeremy Prokosch with his tiny little red book of well-rehearsed retorts. All aimed at his newly commissioned screenwriter, Paul Javal, who assumes a Dean Martin look throughout. Seeing rushes of the film that Lang is making, Prokosch enlists Paul to rewrite the script on his terms, set against director Fritz Lang’s plans. All for a fat cheque that he then hands to Paul. Paul questions the rewriting of Homer’s Odyssey, bearing in mind that Prokosch hates the current version. Prokosch forewarns him about the said script“To know that this is a mistake, keeps one from making it!” Later scolding Paul by suggesting that, as a writer, “A wise man does not humiliate a man with his superiority!” 

After an audition attended by Paul and Camille Javal in an old Italian Cinema, Fritz Lang expresses his disdain for producer Prokosch. He questions Prokosch’s desire to have him remake The Odyssey for Hollywood, but concedes that he has become a Studio’s job-for-hire filmmaker. “Every day, to earn my daily bread, I go to the market where lies are traded”, he confesses to Camille Javal. “Who said that that?” she enquires. “B.B”, answers Fritz Lang, wryly. Camille slips out of her on-screen persona to become Brigitte Bardot (B.B) spontaneously laughing out loud. Lang enlarges with a correct reply, namely, “Bertolt Brecht!!” 

Years ahead of its time in terms of film narrative, insights into relationships, and power games, Le Mépris is ultimately a combination of inventive film making, yet simple storytelling. A structure that hooks you right in from start to finish. Deftly honed by Godard, the Godfather of the French Nouvelle Vague. 

Watch this movie online on BFI Player

“My Imaginary Country becomes a new Chile”, says Patricio Guzman

This awe inspiring documentary comes from the veteran Chilean director Patricio Guzman who made the 1974 three-part observational documentary serial Battle for Chile with French ‘Nouvelle Vague’ cameraman Chris Marker. Last year he refocused his ‘razor sharp gaze’ upon his former homeland, journeying back to Santiago after some 30 years on the 50th anniversary of the dictator General Pinochet’s military Coup D’état.

A country seemingly on the verge of change sees the director focus-in on a nation where 73% of its populace are single mothers. 2019 saw millions of masked women rise-up to take over the streets in order to overthrow a brutal military police force. Millions are seen singing en masse on the streets of Santiago, punching the air in unison to rhythmical songs of hope. 

My Imaginary Country is an in-your-face, heart pounding, poetic tale for civic justice. Epic aerial drone camera work captures street revolution fused with violence, set against intimate interview testament. A Chilean tale that began as a flickering flame of hope that ignited a flaming fireball of music, art, and protest. Undertaken in order to change contemporary history and enable a democratically elected 35-year-old President, who plans to nullify Pinochet’s still-in-place dictatorial constitution.

The new President secured a whopping 4,700,000 majority vote and aerial drone shots of the joyous millions are literally jaw dropping. Let’s hope that this time around America doesn’t send back its battleships – like they did 50 years ago in Guzman’s Battle for Chile – enabling yet another dictator.

My Imaginary Country is an international Arte Co-Production screening exclusively in the UK through Curzon online.

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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