Jack Palance is perfect as the headstrong producer who manipulates his director Fritz Lang (who plays himself), as well as his writer (Michel Piccoli). Palance is the ultimate megalomaniacal producer who enjoys dominating others and manipulating them into doing whatever he wants. The confident and poised Lang acts like the master that he is, he never loses his cool and he copes with Palance's outrageous tantrums as if they were nothing at all, and we can see that despite Palance's constant intereference Lang will make the film that he wants. But the young, sensitive writer is made to feel like a whore. And this explains why he begins to treat his wife like a whore. Piccoli does not seem to want to admit what he is doing but he seems to push his wife into the arms of Palance intentionally so she too will feel the way he does. The script is based on an Alberto Moravia novel and this is a classic Moravia scenario. Moravia was fascinated with prostitutes and so was Godard -- ie My Life to Live.
The husband and wife both feel like whores and so they feel contempt for themselves as well as each other. The husband wonders aloud why commerce must invade every aspect of our lives and by that he means both art and love but he seems powerless to win his wife back. Though the film began with the loving couple laying in bed and whispering to each other, it ends on quite a different note. Palance, Lang, and Piccoli all interpret Homers Odyssey in their own way. Each views the relationship between Odysseus and Penelope according to their own life situation. Palance and Piccoli cease to find the film all that interesting, they are only interested in the battle for Bardot. Lang alone remains focused on the actual film. For Lang the world of the Greeks is too far removed from our own experince of the world and so he reinvents the story so it will resonate with modern audiences and he does so by brilliantly quoting from select texts (Dante, Holderlein)and thus he tells the tale as if it were taking place in the world we know today--as Lang reimagines the tale each scene takes on new significance. And of course the way Lang thinks and works sounds a lot like the way Godard thinks and works.
An excellent film which can be appreciated by Godard fans and a good place to start for those not familiar with Godard.
Now, into the film itself. One can suspect that European filmmaking is and has been boring and pedantic. Particularly, as regards the Nouvelle Vague, and its author-directors, it seems to be so, on the face of it. But if you make the allowances that should be made and take that for granted, you'll be able to enjoy a kind of art that has enomous values.
Watching "Contempt" one is never sure what its director's intentions are. Apparently, to mock much of the tradicional way the films were made was one ot its aims. Both technically and thematically, the desire to transgress and parody is evident. It is good, nevertheless, to open new avenues to creativity in any field.
This is probably one of the best films ever made on cinema making and couple splitting. Forget our fast-paced and overwhelmingly charged (with special effects) contemporary movies. This is the opposite pole. Something of a play, very well written, and very well acted by most of the cast. We see how a married couple breaks off, because of the "contempt" the wife has been developing towards the man. Many quotations, references to other films and directors (Rossellini, Hawks, Ray, Hitchcock, etc.), an erudite script and creative directorial style are the attractions of this film. Also, Brigitte Bardot, nude at the peak of her splendor, and the opportunity to see the great Fritz Lang playing himself.
"The dinosaur and the baby" is an interview to Lang by Godard. With me, it has been a little disappointing. On the one hand, Godard looks (or looked) like an introvert, a not very nice person. And Lang was at the time an old man, very happy of course of the admiration the rampant youths from the Nouvelle Vague professed for him. Neither of them communicates very well -the interview was made in 1967- and what they have to say is relatively interesting. We'd better watch their achievements as directors. At one point, Lang says, very sensibly, that a director speaks with his films. If he has to explain them away, he is not as valuable as that.
At any rate, this film is a masterpiece, and up to now, the best work for the screen that I've seen relating to the crisis in a couple -forget "Eyes withe shut", for example-. It is enjoyable, too, and you get the desire to watch it many times and know more about it and its makers. So, it is money well spent to purchase this faboulous Criterion edition.