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.


Award-winning Egyptian actor and 'Lawrence of Arabia' star Gamil Ratib dies aged 92

Updated 19 September 2018
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Award-winning Egyptian actor and 'Lawrence of Arabia' star Gamil Ratib dies aged 92

  • The actor was loved by Egyptian and Arab audiences but also known in the West for his role in Lawrence of Arabia
  • Tributes pour in from colleagues and fans for a career that spanned many decades

CAIRO: The award-winning Egyptian-French actor, Gamil Ratib, who was widely loved by Arab and European fans, died on Wednesday aged 92.

An icon of Egyptian cinema and drama, Ratib, will be remembered by Arab fans for his roles in a number of TV series such as “Yawmiat Wanees,” “El-Raya al-Bayda,” “Al-Asdekaa,” and “Wajh El-Qamar.” 

The veteran actor also appeared in French and Tunisian cinema and took parts in many distinguished international movies, most famously the1962 Oscar-winning “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Actors who worked closely with Ratib shared their condolences on the social media.

Born in Cairo in 1926, Ratib’s love of performing started in France while studying at university. (Photo: Instagram/@msdar_news)

“My father, My friend and my best actor. Good bye. You left a great history and a great human achievement behind you,” said Mohamed Sobhy, the renowned Egyptian actor who worked closely with Ratib.

Iman Sarkis, another veteran actor, said: “Good bye my friend who had the most kind heart. A great actor and lovely memories together to remember.”

“May Allah have Mercy on the artist Gamil Rateb. He was a beautiful person with an amazing personality reflected on the screen on any role he plays. He covered a space that will be very far fetched to replace,” said Nabil El-Halafawy.

Ratib’s love for acting came from his interest in French theater, which he developed during his years at university there.

Gamil Ratib in the French film "L'Aventuriere des Champs-Elysees" from 1957. (Supplied)

His career spanned 65 years where he starred in both French and Egyptian films and first appeared in a movie in 1945 titled “I Am the East.”

Ratib, who was born on 28 Aug. 1926 in Cairo, has been honored for his work both in Egypt and France, and was a recipient of France’s Legion of Honour in 1995 for 59 years of exceptional work in cinema and film.

Egyptian film lovers also came forward with an outpouring of admiration for Ratib.

“Good bye our legend, you will be missed, we loved you and we will always will,” said Nada El-Bermawy, a Cairo resident.

Gamil Ratib as Majid in Lawrence of Arabia. The actor was widely loved for his roles in Arab and European cinema and TV. (Supplied)

Mohamed Hussien, 41, another Cairo resident, said: “The classy, the evil, the funny. We lost one of our best actors today but will always stay in our hearts and memories.”

Ratib struggled with bad health for several years and in a recent TV appearance he shared his desire for death to end the battle with his illness.

“Death will be restful for me from life problems, ageing and disease,” he said. “I am not fearing death I just fear the pain. I will also follow the people who loved me and get next to them.”

He died at Cairo’s Anglo-American Hospital, his agent confirmed in a statement.