Brigitte Bardot Exposes What's Right about Mostly Unexciting `Contempt'

By Arnold, Gary | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 27, 1997 | Go to article overview

Brigitte Bardot Exposes What's Right about Mostly Unexciting `Contempt'


Arnold, Gary, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Nothing flatters "Contempt," a Jean-Luc Godard relic of 1963 being revived at the Cineplex Odeon Janus, as much as the still-life compositions of one exquisitely evocative and photogenic camera subject: Brigitte Bardot's derriere.

Not exclusively, I hasten to add. Miss Bardot retains a distinctive, provocative appeal when photographed fully clothed or slightly submerged (in balmy waters off Capri) or clutching an oversized bath towel.

Nevertheless, the derriere shots do stand out and gladden the heart, especially if you're old enough to feel nostalgic about Miss Bardot's emergence as a pouty, exotic stimulant in the middle 1950s. If you happened to be a male teen-ager at the time, the impact could be slightly overwhelming.

Miss Bardot is showcased as a naked wonder at the outset of "Contempt." This peekaboo prologue evidently was an afterthought, encouraged or demanded by co-producers Carlo Ponti and Joseph E. Levine. Bless their crass souls. Not that Mr. Godard was obliging enough to contrive an international hit for his patrons, even with Miss Bardot as a raison d'etre. Still, the initial tease remains striking. And one welcomes the encores scattered throughout a very droopy and shallow scenario about marital estrangement and the pitfalls of "selling out" to diabolical modern temptation, symbolized by Jack Palance as a sinister Hollywood movie producer.

Miss Bardot first appears as a reclining nude in a darkened bedroom, her flesh abstracted by red and blue tinting as she playfully asks Michel Piccoli, the actor cast as her weak-willed husband, supposedly a playwright and aspiring screenwriter, to confirm her prettiness. Starting at the ankles and working up.

Very much attuned to pillow talk in the early, pre-militant phase of his career, Mr. Godard failed to sustain "Contempt" as a revealing seriocomic dialogue for vulnerable mates. The illusion of spontaneous intimacy that had worked for him impressively in "Breathless," his breakthrough debut feature of 1960, eluded him while he was pretending to drive a wedge between the Bardot and Piccoli characters.

"Breathless" still thrives on the amoral courtship interplay between Jean-Paul Belmondo as a Parisian thug and Jean Seberg as his girlfriend, an American coed. "Contempt" settles for a lame build-up to estrangement as Mr. Piccoli's Paul Javel disillusions his wife, Camille, abetting her seduction by Mr. Palance's seething and lecherous Jeremiah Prokosch. Encouraged to wear his hat in homage to Dean Martin in "Some Came Running," Mr. Piccoli remains the most trifling of moral cowards.

Ostensibly, Javel is a sucker for quick and easy money, a $10,000 rewrite fee for an improbable work in progress. …

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