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The Strange Things Boutique




Blu-ray . Optimum.

Le MeprisThere are those who still maintain that Jean-Luc Godard is a dreadful director, guilty of unleashing some of the most pretentious and unwatchable crimes against cinema ever conceived. And it’s true that the French director lost his way somewhat in the Seventies, when political dogma and a fascination with the artifice of film-making somewhat obscured the quality of his work. Yet this period, so often taken as being somehow representative of the Godard oeuvre as a whole, was a relatively short aberration. The fact is, Godard has been responsible for some of the best motion pictures of the Sixties: films like Masculin Feminin, Une Femme Est Une Femme, Weekend, Alphaville and A Bout De Souffle are shining nuggets of brilliance that seem as fresh and vibrant today as they ever did. Best of them all is probably Le Mépris.

Those who think that Godard’s work is ‘difficult’ will be surprised to note that Le Mépris has a fairly straight forward narrative structure: playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is hired by crass American producer Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rewrite The Odyssey, which is being filmed by Fritz Lang (playing himself). Lang has been clinging to the original narrative, but Prokosch wants to turn it into a peplum (Javel being hired because he’d previously written Toto Against Hercules). The aspiring writer takes the job, but in the process loses the love and respect of his wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot).

Le Mépris finest achievement is a sprawling middle section where Bardot and Piccoli wander around their Rome apartment while we watch their marriage disintegrate - not in the histrionics and excess that most film-makers might succumb to, but quietly, slowly. Bardot won’t tell Piccoli why she no longer loves her, and his attempts to find the reason become ever more desperate - does she think he used her to curry favour with Palance? Did she see him touching up Palance’s secretary? His lack of understanding and insincere attempts to rectify the situation (offering to drop the project for Palance if that’s what she wanted) simply increase her growing contempt.

There is much to recommend in Le Mépris beyond the narrative - the incredible visuals, not least of all the magnificent scenery of Capri that provides a backdrop to the latter part of the film; Godard’s movie references and magnificently assured direction; and the stunning music, which is simple yet supremely haunting - Raoul Coutard’s score give the film the flavour of grand tragedy. Many viewers, of course, will be attracted by the presence of Bardot, who is truly excellent. Godard presents her both as tragic heroine and sex kitten - the opening scene fetishises that magnificent butt so effectively that you might well have trouble concentrating on the subtitles - and she rises to the occasion magnificently. Kudos too to the rest of the cast, not least of which is Palance, giving another twitchily unstable performance.

Le Mépris is a masterpiece. Open your minds and check it out.






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