Godard Meets Bardot

Le mépris (Contempt) is the sixth feature film from legendary French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. Starring an unforgettable Brigitte Bardot at the height of her international stardom and a scenery-chewing Jack Palance performance, Godard parodies the push-pull of great cinema balanced with commercial interests.

Composer Georges Delerue contributes a beautiful score highlighted by Thème de Camille, Contempt’s primary leitmotif. Art meets commerce in Contempt as Godard takes a crack at “commercial” filmmaking for the first time with a big budget and Hollywood-level stars. The introspective melodrama provides an uncanny eye on marriage while dissecting the movie industry from within.

Art meets commerce in Contempt as Godard takes a crack at “commercial” filmmaking for the first time

Filmed at the scenic Villa Malaparte on Capri, Contempt is the story of a screenwriter’s marriage falling apart as he works on a movie for a crass American producer. The tale of a movie-within-a-movie, German director Fritz Lang plays himself as a filmmaker adapting Homer’s Odyssey. His unerring art-house sensibilities have moved the project far away from mainstream tastes.

Upset with what he’s seen from Lang, larger-than-life American producer Jeremy (Jack Palance) enlists screenwriter Paul (Michel Piccoli) to help save the international production from disaster. Paul’s stunning wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) grows increasingly disenchanted with him as he makes the movie.

Often described as a love letter to his wife Anna Karina, Godard lights up the screen with a ravishing Brigitte Bardot. Opening with an extended nude scene which was ironically forced upon Godard by his producer, the international sex symbol displays her chops as a talented actress portraying Camille’s loss of faith in the relationship.

Godard paints a provocative portrait of the growing contempt between married partners, possibly representing the disparate interests between art and commerce in the movie business. There’s a lot to unpack in Contempt’s taut storytelling. A full understanding almost certainly necessitates multiple viewings. It’s compelling cinema with hidden delights, if not quite Godard’s best work.

Richly exploring the dynamics within the director-producer relationship, Godard turns Contempt into an engaging and occasionally brilliant film. Tempering his intellectual pretensions, Contempt succinctly captures the delicate threads which can pull a marriage apart.

Video

Lionsgate merely licenses a satisfactory 4K transfer already performed by StudioCanal, which served as the basis for their 4K UHD special edition in France. Text placed before the film indicates the transfer’s pedigree:

The film was restored and digitalized in 4K by StudioCanal from 2021 to 2023 at Hiventy with support from the CNC. In order to optimize the 4K restoration, the original 35mm negative and scenes from the interpositive were used along with the reference print reworked in 2002 by Mr. Raoul Coutard, the film’s director of photography. The previous digital versions showed a lack of detail in high and low light. Furthermore, the colors deviated from the director’s specifications. Thanks to documented information, the original contrasts, details and saturation were restored. The project was supervised by the StudioCanal team, Sophie Boyer and Jean-Pierre Bolget.

What they produce is a fine 2.35:1 presentation in 2160p resolution with Dolby Vision as a bonus. The 1963 CinemaScope production now reflects more authentic contrast and saturation tweaks over prior editions. There are still a few weaknesses found in the original elements, but overall definition and clarity are often exemplary. Contempt’s opening sex scene now closely captures the changing lighting used by cinematographer Raoul Coutard without noisy problems found in earlier releases.

Digital tinkering is done with a light hand, if at all. Hiventy isn’t known for their top-notch restorations but Contempt appears to be an exception. It’s a film-like transfer respecting the 35mm negative which doesn’t exaggerate Contempt’s measured palette. The new color correction is tasteful, if not always pitch-perfect. Colorists love dialing up magenta in today’s films. Colors exude a stable, consistent tone with healthy flesh-tones in the middle.

The main feature running an uncut 103 minutes is encoded in adequate HEVC, found on a dual-layer UHD. Grain structure is nicely rendered with the exception of a few stray scenes. Appreciable texture and fine detail jump out in the sharper scenes. There isn’t much more resolution which can extracted from Contempt’s negatives than this disc, a no-doubt improvement over BD.

Audio

Original mono French and English soundtracks are offered in 2.0 DTS-HD MA. These are standard-sounding European recordings for the era, a bit thick and reedy. Composer Georges Delerue’s memorable score has earned its own acclaim with the recurring theme a noteworthy treat.

French and English dialogue pepper both soundtracks with an international feel common to bigger European productions of the 1960s. Purists will likely prefer the French soundtrack as it’s the native language for both Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font inside the 2.35:1 widescreen frame.

Extras

Contempt likely isn’t a big seller on home video so Lionsgate avoids licensing the copious special features available on foreign releases, giving us a practically barebones disc.

If you’re a cinemaphile looking for a deeper explanation and can play region-free BDs, seek out StudioCanal’s French 4K release with in-depth bonus features. A fine Criterion edition was released on DVD over twenty years ago. This 4K release from Lionsgate likely precludes Criterion from issuing Contempt themselves on UHD.

No Blu-ray copy is included with the 4K UHD. A digital copy is included which currently redeems in HDX on VUDU. Hold off redeeming the digital copy until VUDU upgrades their copy from HDX to UHD video quality.

An Introduction by Colin MacCabe (05:31 in HD)

Full disclosure: This UHD was provided by the label for review. This has not materially affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit DoBlu’s about us page.

  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

Godard’s foray into commercial filmmaking is an artistic success as he slyly parodies the director-producer relationship with a stunning Brigitte Bardot along for the ride

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 50 full resolution, uncompressed 4K screen shots ripped directly from the UHD:


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