Contempt: Godard's Iconic Film with Bardot

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Noël Roquevert (Decauville-Lachenée), Henri Vidal (Hervé) et Brigitte Bardot (Virginie) © STUDIOCANAL
Noël Roquevert (Decauville-Lachenée), Henri Vidal (Hervé) et Brigitte Bardot (Virginie) © STUDIOCANAL
Noël Roquevert (Decauville-Lachenée), Henri Vidal (Hervé) et Brigitte Bardot (Virginie) © STUDIOCANAL

Contempt (Le Mépris) might be the French movie of the 60s. The movie, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, was released at the peak of the new wave moment in France and featured the actress of the 60s, France's very own Brigitte Bardot. 

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Copyright for the main image of this article:
Noël Roquevert (Decauville-Lachenée), Henri Vidal (Hervé) et Brigitte Bardot (Virginie) © STUDIOCANAL

Contempt (Le Mépris) might be the French movie of the 60s. The movie, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, was released at the peak of the new wave moment in France and featured the actress of the 60s, France's very own Brigitte Bardot. Stream now Brigitte Bardot's movies and more on TV5MONDEplus

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"Contempt (Le Mépris)": An instant Classic

"Contempt" (Le Mépris) was released in 1963. It was directed by Jean-Luc Godard and is loosely based on a novel by Alberto Moravia. The film is classified as a French New Wave art film, the burgeoning film movement in France at the time with movies from director like Agnès Varda, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette and Jacques Demy. With its unique and unorthodox narrative style, "Contempt" has been widely regarded as one of the best films of the 20th century and regularly makes media's list of the best movies ever made.

During the year of its release, in 1963, "Contempt" marked an interesting period in the French socio-political climate. The Algerian War, which had started around 1954, had only just ended. The climate was tense, with a new conservative government led by Charles de Gaulle, and a rising leftist movement among Paris intellectuals and artists, including the members of the French New Wave film movement.

Despite the anti-government position of the movie industry at large, "Contempt" received widespread critical acclaim in France upon its release, and made headlines across the world, thanks to the presence of Brigitte Bardot. It was revered for its innovative cinematic techniques, including its use of color and sound, as well as its non-linear narrative structure that examined themes of art, love, and betrayal. "Contempt" went on to be a critical success and has been studied and revered by film theorists and academics worldwide, solidifying its place in the history of cinema.

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Brigitte Bardot's Role in "Contempt"

Bardot's character, Camille Javal, is a pivotal part of the film's narrative, adding depth and complexity to the story. She is seen as a muse for the male characters in the film, leading to their objectification of her. However, as the plot unfolds, Camille's disillusionment with the men around her becomes apparent, putting the focus more on her character's personal growth and journey.

One of the most prominent aspects of "Contempt" was the performance by French actress Brigitte Bardot as the female lead, Camille Javal. Known for her beauty, Bardot was already a household name at the time, but not always taken so seriously for her acting talent. Too often, she was cast as a frivolous temptress who seduces men - especially the ones she can't have. But her performance in "Contempt" broke her away from those labels, cementing her as a serious actress.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Bardot's role in "Contempt" was the feminist icon status bestowed upon her. The film examined the objectification of women and the gaze of the male viewer through Bardot's character, who becomes disillusioned with her husband after he starts to take her for granted. Bardot's performance in "Contempt" has since been viewed as a pioneering moment in feminist cinema in which the archetypal "sex kitten" character was transformed into the fully-realized, complex woman that she played on screen.

Following the release of "Contempt," Bardot's career took a different turn. She began taking more serious roles in line with her character in the film, and was able to successfully break away from the "sex symbol" label that had previously dominated her public image. Her performance in "Contempt" can be seen as a pivotal moment in her career, leading to more critically-acclaimed roles that allowed her to showcase her acting abilities.

Her sole presence was a major reason why so many producers, especially American producers, had put money in the film. In the first version of the movie, the producers Carlo Ponti et Joe Levine came very disappointed. They had learned that the actress had shot some scenes where she was partly naked but the scenes had been cut at the editing stage. Despite Gordard's discontent, they forced him to reshoot some scenes with Bardot... But Godard, deciding to stay true to what he believed, decided to mask the actress' body by applying different color filters to the scene, which will become his signature style.

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An international cast

The cast of "Contempt" was a collection of talented individuals contributing to the overall success of the film. Alongside Brigitte Bardot, the film starred Michel Piccoli as Paul Javal, Jack Palance as movie producer Jeremy Prokosch, and Giorgia Moll as Francesca Vanini, Prokosch's lover. 

Michel Piccoli was a respected actor in France prior to his role in "Contempt." He had worked with many acclaimed directors, including Jean Renoir and Jacques Rivette, and was already known for his serious, dramatic roles. Jack Palance, on the other hand, was an American actor who had previously starred in several Hollywood films, including "Sudden Fear" and "Shane." 

One particular dynamic that stood out in "Contempt" was the on-screen relationship between Brigitte Bardot's Camille and Michel Piccoli's Paul. Their characters were caught in a tumultuous romantic relationship, which the actors portrayed with great chemistry.

Off-screen, however, their on-set relationship was not as positive. Bardot complained that Piccoli was always in character and would often ignore her during breaks in filming. Bardot has said that Piccoli was playing the role of the distant husband too realistically when the cameras were off, making her feel isolated during the filming of the movie.

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