We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
"Contempt'' was Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 attempt at a big-budget, big- star production, and more or less satisfied his curiosity. It was not the direction he wanted to move in, and the rest of his career can be seen, in a way, as a reaction to the experience. Not that the film itself is a compromise; you can see the tension between Godard and his backers right there on the screen, and hear it between the lines of the dialogue, in this newly restored print.
The film is about a failed playwright (Michel Piccoli) who is hired by a corrupt American producer (Jack Palance) to work on the script of a movie by a great veteran director (Fritz Lang, playing himself). The playwright is married to a sexy former typist (Brigitte Bardot) that the producer has his eye on. The film is going to be based on The Odyssey, but Palance has a "Hercules''-style ripoff in mind, while Lang wants to make an art film.
Many critics have interpreted "Contempt'' as a parallel to The Odyssey, with Piccoli as Odysseus, Bardot as Penelope and Palance as Poseidon, but it is just as tempting to see the frustrated screenwriter as Godard; the woman as Godard's wife, Anna Karina, and the producer as a cross between Joseph E. Levine and Carlo Ponti, who were both attached to the project. There's a scene where Palance views a rough cut of the movie (which looks like stark modernist wallpaper) and shouts at Lang, "You cheated me, Fritz! That's not what's in the script!'' As Palance hurls cans of film around the screening room, we may be reminded that the film opened with a curious, extended scene in which Bardot's naked (but not explicitly revealed) body is caressed and praised by Piccoli. Insecure, she asks him about her thighs, her arms, her breasts, and he replies in every case that he gazes upon perfection. This sequence was belatedly photographed after the producers screamed at Godard that he had cheated them by shooting a film starring Bardot and including not one nude shot. In revenge, he gave them acres of skin but no eroticism.
Fritz Lang sails through the movie like an immovable object, at one point telling Palance, "Include me out--as a real producer once said.'' The others carry the real weight of the story. Early in the film, after the disastrous screening, Palance storms out and then offers Bardot a ride to his Roman villa, leaving his secretary and Piccoli to follow behind. Palance makes a pass at Bardot, who turns him down contemptuously, and is then disturbed when Piccoli doesn't seem to defend her as he should--is he trying to provide his wife to the producer? That leads to the film's second act, an extended marital argument between Piccoli and Bardot, shot in the disconnected cadences of real life; couples do not often argue logically because what both sides are really asking for is uncritical acceptance and forgiveness. Then comes the third major location, a sensational villa jutting out high above the Mediterranean, its roof reached by a broad flight of steps that looks like the ascent to a Greek temple.