Cinematic cars: Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider in “Le Mépris” (1963)
Contempt (Le Mépris) is [Jean-Luc] Godard’s mostly faithful adaptation of an Alberto Moravia novel. The film revolves around the disintegrating relationship between screenwriter Paul Javel (Michel Piccoli) and his wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot).
When Paul is roped into a project with the crass American film producer Jeremiah Prokosch (Jack Palance), Camille’s emotions curdle as she watches her husband prostitute himself. Prokosch has come to Europe to bastardize an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey, directed by the legendary Fritz Lang (playing himself). Lang wants to make slow, cerebral art. Prokosch wants a rewrite filled with topless mermaids wiggling their tails. Paul needs the money. In two key scenes, Camille wants Paul to intervene when Prokosch makes lecherous advances toward her, but Paul doesn’t. Camille is humiliated. Her frustration eventually festers into the acidic emotion of the title, and the undeniable power and beauty of the film comes from feeling her pain (source).
Believe it or not, it’s the blood red Alfa (practically leaping off of the screen) and not Brigitte Bardot who commands more presence (just) in this scene set in a dusty little village somewhere in post-war Capri. And that’s not just a testament to the Spider (which the camera lingers over, helpfully), but also to the Herculean accomplishment of dialing back the ravishing Bardot (whether through Godard’s direction, Bardot’s own performance, or some combination thereof), whose mere presence is usually enough to cause some fairly serious quickening of breath.
(And thus concludes “Alfa week”— hope you enjoyed it.)