Le Mépris

Georges Delerue

" This string-based blend of 'romance' and great sadness will nonetheless serve as an overwhelming emotional experience, touching the deepest part of your heart. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the regular release

Georges Delerue has written an immense amount of good scores, but I have always had a strong tendency to fall back on his most blooming period for Nouvelle Vague films. I think his efforts for these creative and relevant French films brought out the best in him as a composer, as was demonstrated for films such as La Peau Douce, Jules et Jim and Le Mépris (his only collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard).

Delerue composed a lot of music for Le Mépris (Contempt), of which Godard kept a few pieces and decided to use Camille’s theme throughout the film. It was this collaboration that made Delerue decide to start accommodating directors by delivering various renditions of compositions, hoping to prevent them from using the same piece repeatedly. Even though the repetitive use of the theme may strike one as being monotone, it is actually completely the opposite. That can be explained as much by the timeless quality of the theme as well as how the filmmaker used it. It is a heart wrenching, yet romantic (needing the right mindset) theme, written for a collection of strings playing a very simple melody over arpeggios. By the use of this technique, also commonly used by Wojciech Kilar, the theme gains heavily on a certain kind of dramatic progression, completely serving the developments of the film. Someone may even think of playing it at a memorial service, or a wedding ceremony for that matter, which naturally requires the pair to be on a similar wavelength. The theme is brilliantly placed against the background of the decline of a relationship, the decline of the European art film and the making of a film about a Greek tragedy.

The other pieces of music are of a similar, grave emotional atmosphere, but just less lyrical as the theme of Camille. There is never a moment the slow string passages, sometimes accompanied by harp playing, do not evoke a great sense of sadness. The fact that Delerue kept it relatively simple, in terms of clearly defined melody, is also something that can be greatly appreciated. In fact, it’s one of the things I feel defined him as a composer.

Ironically, Delerue’s strong and melodramatic music is somewhat in contradiction to what directors of Nouvelle Vague wanted to establish with their innovative new wave of film making. Take Martial Solal’s music for À Bout de Souffle, which seemed much more in tune with the radical approach of that film. However, as the future showed, composers like Delerue would continue to write melodramatic and different kind of scores. This reminds me, the version for the Italian market (Il Disprezzo) completely removed Delerue’s music and replaced it a by a newly composed full-length score by Piero Piccioni. I have often questioned these changes, as they rarely exceed the quality of the original music. The same goes for Piccioni’s score, but I particularly adore greater parts of his career. For Il Disprezzo the Italian composer makes use of some of traditional instruments like the ever so lovely Hammond organs, bass, guitars and drums. There are a lot of attractive rhythms, jazzy melodies and it contains a very subtle dramatic/romantic approach. I would hardly call it a very inspiring piece of work, but to Piccioni’s standards it is ‘an above average’ effort. However, this score could never compete with the brilliant score of the French composer and would most likely change part of the heartbeat of the film. Reportedly Godard was not ‘amused’. But I do distress that it’s worth hearing the music as an album (released by Digitmovies).

I would have to say some part of the emotional evocation (by Delerue) may not be described purely by knowing it apart from the film, as the cinematic style of the film is of sheer brilliance. The beautiful surroundings, the astonishing acting, the carefully constructed cinemascope cinematography, the esthetic function of the dialogues/music and some things that cannot be defined by actual words. This string-based blend of 'romance' and great sadness will nonetheless serve as an overwhelming emotional experience, touching the deepest part of your heart.

Music from Le Mépris have been released on a variety of releases, ranging from 1 to 7 cues. The only release entirely devoted to this score was an EP produced by Philips, but it unfortunately has no more than 4 pieces of music. The most accessible release is the ‘’Écoutez le Cinéma ! 06’’ cd by Universal, including 6 cues and music from various other Delerue works. The label Le temps modernes managed to include a 7th cue, but it was withdrawn rather quickly and remains difficult to obtain. I would love to see a new release doing justice to the original intentions of Delerue, but I do not have much hope.

1. Ouverture (01:51)
2. Thème de Camille (02:32)
3. Générique (02:12)
4. La Rupture chez Prokoch (02:58)
5. Paul (02:01)
6. Capri (01:46)
7. Winter (02:30)

Written 14-09-2012
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(total of 6 votes - average 5/5)

Released by

Philips 434 809 (regular release 0)