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Feature


Novelist and playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is approached by aggressive American film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rewrite a film version of Homer’s Odyssey, which is being directed by respected Austrian director Fritz Lang (Fritz Lang). Paul’s intellectual and social ideals don’t quite gel with the project, so he and his wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) take a trip to Italy, where Prokosch expects to talk the writer into the project. After being left alone with Prokosch Camille develops contempt for her husband, who is emotionally crushed by her passive aggressive attack.

Contempt: Studio Canal Collection
This is going to be a quick, layman’s review of a classic and beloved motion picture. Not only have I never seen Contempt before this, but I’ve never seen a Godard film, and on the whole French New Wave represents a huge gap in my knowledge base. Contempt (Le Mepris) is such a rich tapestry I plan on rectifying this situation as soon as possible. Going into the film as a blank slate on the era, but not on film as a whole or the surrounding eras definitely helped my experience. Contempt is a referential and post-modern piece, making comments on filmmaking through the means of a clever film-within-a-film motif. I personally especially appreciate this approach, as I’ve found more abstract approaches to the idea grating, specifically Federico Fellini’s much celebrated 8 ½. Viewers even less educated than myself will likely be surprised by how contemporary the film feels, despite its period visuals. I specifically noticed a lot of Tarantino in the film, specifically Inglorious Basterds, which also uses film history as a means to tell a familiar story.

The listless and angst driven melodrama dates the film, and is a little maddening in its insistence we read everything between the lines. Godard clearly intends his audience to grow frustrated with Camille’s behavior (the title is Contempt, after all), and there’s a definite truth to the film’s emotional warfare, but it grows a bit grating, making one long for the more expressive sequences, or the post-argument wrap-ups that discuss the fights in poetic narration (not to mention beautiful images of a nude Bardot, ahem). Again, this doesn’t feel entirely foreign in the day and age of Mad Men, a series noted for its ‘60s New Wave influences. Among the outspoken references to ‘The Odyssey’, the awkward comments on materialism, and the overtly artistic visuals is an understandable, and eventually shocking tale of love lost. Even we plebeians can recognize the universal nature of such themes.

Contempt: Studio Canal Collection

Video


My solemn swear to pick up on the French New Wave, and Jean-Luc Godard in general is probably going to be a bit of a disappointment from here on out, based on this awe-inspiring Blu-Ray presentation. This 1080p transfer will likely soil the visual reputation of all future standard definition endeavors. Grain is a ‘problem’, and one that increases depending on lighting, and frequency of colour. The grain is fine, however, based on the film’s make and age, and preferable to over-sharpening or DNR. The opening scene where Camille questions Paul on her body parts is an interesting starting point for comparison’s sake. The two parts of the scene that are gelled in colour (orange and blue) are pure in hue, but grainy, with deep shadows that lessen details, while the un-gelled section is natural, crisp, and features surprisingly sharp details. Godard doesn’t utilize this more abstract technique very often, but for video review purposes it’s the perfect place to start.

The outdoor shots display a pretty impressive range of detail, flowing far back into the backgrounds. The grain depletes the finest and sharpest details, but only barely, and edge-enhancement is practically non-existent. Occasionally inconsistencies in the lighting (the sun was likely out of Godard’s control) produce a bit of white blooming during these otherwise beautiful outdoor shots. The footage from Lang’s ‘Odyssey’, and scene shot on that set are especially vibrant, clear, and deep in detail. The oceans are comparable to the recent James Bond Blu-ray releases. The indoor scenes, which fall victim to Godard’s use of colour, are a little less consistent in the detail and purity department, but the frequency of the colours are remarkably pure and well cut against each other, especially the brightest reds, which would likely appear blocky on an SD transfer. There are small sections of film that aren’t as pristinely represented as the best of the disc, and these feature a definite lack of detail and increase of white edge-enhancement. Thankfully these are the exception, not the rule, and still aren’t a huge problem. If the titles are to be believed the framing should’ve actually been 2.40:1 over 2.35:1, but the edges rarely appear at all tight (there’s one shot around the 64:00 mark that definitely looks cropped), so this is a minor quibble.

Contempt: Studio Canal Collection

Audio


Lionsgate and Studio Canal skip over a remixed surround track this time around, thankfully, opting for the best darn uncompressed, DTS-HD dual mono track they can muster. There’s not a whole lot of richness to the film’s audio design, which is almost exclusively naturalistic, utilizing basic on-set and minor foley work to create minor texture. The dialogue is paramount, and though slightly flat and muffled, the words are always clear, on both the English and French tracks. The climax is a bit of a problem for both tracks, specifically a hissing echo effect on some of the dialogue. I’m not entirely sure which track is preferable to cineastes, as I understand the English dub is not particularly hated or anything, and it is presented top on the release. There are sections of missing English dialogue, and when the sound defaults to French we can hear the differences between the tracks. The English track has a better feel overall, is less tinny than the French track, and features less minor distortion on the background elements, though occasionally the audio seems to drop a half octave. One of the most interesting aspects of the English track, which makes me slightly prefer it to the original French is the use of Prokosch’s interpreter. In French she’s clearly just acting as an interpreter, but in English she’s left to interpret the meaning of Prokosch’s words, almost like an in scene narrator. The music is low on the track, coming up in repetitive waves throughout the film. It’s somewhat fuzzy at times, but the strings are relatively warm, even without the added support of a real LFE track.

Contempt: Studio Canal Collection

Extras


I should note that apparently all current releases of Contempt on Blu-ray feature the same extras. These special features begin with and introduction from Godard historian Colin MacCabe (5:30, SD), who gives us an idea of why the film is important, and where it belongs in the filmmaker’s catalogue. MacCabe’s thought would’ve been better spent in the form of an expert running commentary on the film. Alas. ‘Once Upon a Time There Was… Contempt’ (52:30, SD) appears to be an entry in a French television series on film, based on its title and its opening. The mini-doc features words from Godard himself on the project, which he’s meant to be watching during part of the interview, along with a series of stills and narration concerning the histories of the guilty parties, some interview and behind the scenes footage from a vintage documentary, and words from actor Michel Piccoli and other experts on the subject. Godard put’s the film in its proper historical framework, considering the film his first ‘classic’ attempt at filmmaking, and a comment on his sadness over the decline of the medium in the early television age. The experts seem to agree, especially MacCabe, who sums up almost the entire doc in his introduction. ‘ Contempt…Tenderly’ (31:30, SD) is kind of more of the same, but from a different documentarian’s point of view. It even features interviews with some of the same people, who say pretty much the same things.

The one extra this set shares with the Criterion DVD release is ‘The Dinosaur and The Baby’ (‘Le Dinosaure et le Bebe’, 72:00, SD), a long conversation between Godard and Fritz Lang, which is present in pieces during the first making-of featurette. This doc is a bit of a slog (featuring too much footage from Contempt itself), but the great moments are worth the wait. In contemporary terms this would be like watching John Ford discuss filmmaking with Martin Scorsese on a serious level. Lang, who rules the conversation, isn’t afraid to tell Godard he thinks he’s wrong, but he’s more interested in analyzing his style as opposed to the young man’s. This piece is augmented with another conversation with Lang (14:30, SD) recorded around the same time (just after the film was finished) for German audiences. A hilarious trailer wraps things up.

Contempt: Studio Canal Collection

Overall


Don’t be like me. Don’t wait three decades to see Contempt. Buy or rent this Blu-ray release and marvel. Those that were smart enough to discover the film years ago, and who own any of the various DVD releases, give the high definition transfer a shot – it’s a bit inconsistent, but when it’s working it’s pretty incredible. The extras are a little short of fascinating, and repeat several times over, but are more endearing and entertaining than the same day Studio Canal collection Ran release.

Reviewer Note: Huge thanks to Troy Anderson at Andersonvision.com for the screencaps, which have been resized for the page.


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