Le Mépris: Godard’s masterpiece still smoulders after all these years

Brigitte Bardot, right, and Jean-Luc Godard, left, on the set of Godard’s ‘Masculin-Feminin’ in 1965. (AFP)
Updated 09 May 2018
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Le Mépris: Godard’s masterpiece still smoulders after all these years

  • Godard proved a master at thrusting bare-faced Marxist ideology onto cinema screens
  • With “Le Mépris” Godard also proved a master manipulator of human emotion

ROTTERDAM: Director Jean-Luc Godard is a master of many things. With his stylish, noir-ish debut “Breathless” (À bout de soufflé, 1960), he was established as the French New Wave’s master of moody, monochrome, cigarette-sucking, fedora-touting cool.

With his later, post-1968 protest works, Godard proved a master at thrusting bare-faced Marxist ideology onto cinema screens. And throughout his entire six-decade career, Godard has proved a master of tearing up the rulebook — pioneering a fiercely original, cerebral, grainy, jump-cut, narrative-free and often impenetrable approach which best embodies every cliché, good or bad, about so-called arthouse cinema. 

But with “Le Mépris” (Contempt), which turns 55 in December, Godard also proved a master manipulator of human emotion. I recently had the chance to re-watch this 1963 masterpiece on a big screen. It’s a film I’ve seen perhaps a dozen times before, but even anticipating every bitter conversational turn and faux-profound witticism, the emotional rigor of Godard’s sixth picture remained undiminished. I left the cinema in a nervy but electrified state, needing an hour in a quiet café to steady and appreciate the tragic freewheeling chain of thoughts unravelling. 

Michel Piccoli plays a French scriptwriter, recently arrived in Rome to sell his soul, and maybe his beautiful young wife — a timeless turn from Brigitte Bardot — to a crass American movie producer (Jack Palance) making a narcissistic version of Homer’s “Odyssey.” With stately satire, German expressionist master Fritz Lang, of “Metropolis” authorship, plays himself as the project’s cynically aloof director. 

A movie about moviemaking, but also about love. And hate. The breakdown of Piccoli and Bardot’s marriage — over a single, real-time, 31-minute conversation, inside the claustrophobic, barren walls of their new apartment — is the film’s emotional core, a stunningly virtuoso second act of three. 

But there’s so much more to chew on: “Le Mépris” is about Greek gods and movie goddesses. About integrity, lust and power. About America and postwar Europe. About the poetry of Technicolor sunlight. “Le Mépris” is about humans — and how vicious, cruel and transactional we truly are.


What We Are Reading Today: Churchill: Walking with destiny by Andrew Roberts

Updated 4 min 30 sec ago
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What We Are Reading Today: Churchill: Walking with destiny by Andrew Roberts

  • The story Roberts tells is sophisticated and in the end more satisfying
  • The book being deals with all the controversies in his career that you would expect

Winston Churchill was born on Nov. 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of the Duke of Marlborough. 

Historian Andrew Roberts’ insight about Winston Churchill’s relation to fate in “Churchill: Walking With Destiny” comes directly from the subject himself. 

“I felt as if I were walking with destiny,” Churchill wrote of that moment in May 1940 when he achieved the highest office. 

But the story Roberts tells is more sophisticated and in the end more satisfying. 

The book covers Churchill’s post-war warnings about the Soviet threat and his second premiership in the early-to-mid 1950s, including his complex relationship with Anthony Eden, his successor-in-waiting. 

Roberts, who was born in 1963, took a first class honors degree in Modern History at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, from where he is an honorary senior scholar and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). He has written or edited 12 books, and appears regularly on radio and television around the world.

“The book being deals with all the controversies in his career that you would expect. However nothing can detract from the ultimate conclusion that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was a very great man without whom humane civilization would not have been saved during those stern days of the Second World War,” stated a review published in goodreads.com