Contempt (1963/1964)

Opened: 09/06/2013 Limited

Film Forum/NYC09/06/2013 - 09/19/201314 days
Claremont 512/15/2013 - 12/15/20131 day
Playhouse 701/17/2014 - 01/23/20147 days
Royal01/17/2014 - 01/23/20147 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home

Genre: French/Italian Drama (French w/English subtitles)

Rated: Unrated


CONTEMPT opens at Rome's Cinecitta studios, made empty by the economic crisis of Italian (and European) cinema. An American producer, Jerry Prokosch, is eager to engage a young French playwright, Paul Javal -- who'd previously worked on the hit movie Totò Against Hercules -- to re-write a screenplay of The Odyssey, which Prokosch is currently shooting with the great German director Fritz Lang. Prokosch's Odyssey is no sword and sandal epic: he wants a modern psychological love story fit for the masses. But Lang wishes to catch on film the classical art of Greece.

As the three men watch the rushes together with a translator, Francesa Vanini -- the producer delighted only by the shots of nude mermaids -- it becomes clear that Prokosch has no time for Lang's untroubled classical serenity; he's determined to buy Paul's talents in order to wrest control of the film. After the screening, Paul meets his beautiful young wife Camille. Prokosch is struck by her and invites the couple to his villa, offering Camille a ride in his two-seat Alfa Romeo. Camille is reluctant, but Paul insists, and goes by taxi. When he arrives late, Camille is furious. But Paul, unmindful, hands her off to Prokosch and makes a perfunctory pass at Francesca.

The action moves to Paul and Camille's new, not-yet-furnished apartment, a reminder of the financial burden that makes Prokosch's offer so attractive. Paul speaks desperately to Camille, hoping to reverse the bad feelings. At the same time he pleads with her to join Prokosch and the rest of the crew in Capri. The situation worsens as they continue to argue. Suddenly, it seems Camille has nothing but utter contempt for him.

Camille will not explain the change in her regard for him. Paul believes she's jealous of Francesca; he begs for an explanation, but she declares simply that she no longer loves him. Bewildered and desperate, Paul is determined to find the reason for Camille's contempt.

Jerry invites the couple to stay at his rented villa, in Capri, during the filming. Hoping to rekindle her love, Paul persuades Camille to make the trip.

Lang and Paul, once at work, disagree on the approach to The Odyssey. The director is committed to a classic vision, while Paul has come around to Prokosch's interpretation, conceiving the story as a romantic adventure and reading his own troubles into the story. Their heated discussions reveal the conflict between Paul, Camille and Jerry -- whom Paul now feels is his rival -- as a psychological parallel to the legend of Ulysses, with Paul as Odysseus, Camille as Penelope, and Prokosch as Poseidon.

One evening, Paul sees Jerry kissing Camille, who knows that her husband has been watching them. When he confronts her, Camille admits she has stopped loving him because he was prostituting her to Prokosch. Paul protests that Camille has completely misinterpreted his relationship with the producer, and to prove his claim, he decides to quit the film. When he asks Camille to return with him to Rome, she says it doesn't matter whether or not he quits -- she's no longer capable of loving him. "Because you are not a man," she declares.

Camille leaves a note and abruptly departs for Rome with Jerry, in order to leave Paul and resume her former career as a typist. On the way, the Alfa Romeo crashes between two oil-tankers, killing both Camille and Prokosch.

On Capri, Paul bids farewell to Lang, who is framing a shot of the returning Odysseus gazing upon his homeland. This shot, noisily prepared by Lang's assistant (played by Godard himself), closes the film.