Contempt: A Map of Relationships Gone Awry

There exists within the annals of film history numerous stories about love gone wrong. But there is something so true and real about the unraveling of Camille and Paul Javal’s marriage in the span of a day in Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt. Adapted from Alberto Moravia’s novel, A Ghost at Noon, Godard explores how easy it is to fall out of love against the backdrop of a film within a film concept.

Love gone wrong
Love gone wrong
As Paul’s (Michel Piccoli) career as a writer shifts toward film, Camille becomes increasingly disgusted by his behavior and obsequiousness toward the producer, Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance). The director, Fritz Lang (playing himself, obviously), is all too willing to go along with Prokosch’s interpretation of the story of Odysseus–also the title of the film they’re making–while Paul is slightly less willing to believe in a modern adaptation of Odysseus as a neurotic whose true motive for taking ten years to return to Ithaca is because he hates his wife, Penelope.
Relationship ennui sets in
Relationship ennui sets in
After Prokosch invites Camille and Paul over to his house, Camille becomes vexed by Paul after he leaves her alone with Prokosch by taking too long to get there and then shamelessly flirting with Prokosch’s assistant, Francesca (Giorgia Moll). This sets off a moodiness in Camille that she can’t shake, because, in her mind, Paul has changed irrevocably.
From left to right: Francesca (Moll), Prokosch (Palance), Camille (Bardot)
From left to right: Francesca (Moll), Prokosch (Palance), Camille (Bardot)
Sensing her anger toward him when they’re back at the apartment, Paul grills her about what’s become so different between them since earlier that morning, when they were so happy together. Camille refuses to tell him anything, only admitting that she doesn’t love him anymore after one of the lengthiest, most intense scenes ever rendered to film.
Promotional poster for Contempt
Promotional poster for Contempt
Camille herself mirrors the tragic nature of Odysseus, doomed to a fatal fate by her own stubbornness and self-destructive tendencies. In the end, Camille must come to her demise along with the relationship. It’s the Godard way, after all: all main characters must die.