Sight & Sound Poll 2012: Contempt

Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.

Of all the films Jean-Luc Godard made during the French New Wave, Contempt is his most visually luxurious. Shot in dazzling color and expansive CinemaScope, this movie about movies follows the professional and romantic travails of a screenwriter, Paul (Michel Piccoli), hired by a crass American producer (Jack Palance) to do a major rewrite of an adaptation of The Odyssey by a venerable European filmmaker named Fritz Lang (played by none other than . . . Fritz Lang). Meanwhile, Paul’s marriage to the beautiful Camille (Brigitte Bardot) slowly crumbles. Contempt has the look of the widescreen international coproduction travelogue films of the day—including gorgeous on-location footage of Capri and salacious images of its leading lady’s bare bottom (added at the insistence of producers Carlo Ponti and Joseph E. Levine)—yet its inventive filmmaking, including many remarkable long takes, marks it as distinctively Godardian art film. Though it was an unusually starry film for Godard, the real headliner is Raoul Coutard, its brilliant cinematographer—that’s Coutard behind the camera in the film’s opening scene. In this clip from Criterion’s interview with Coutard, he discuses what it meant to shoot in CinemaScope for Godard.

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