“Do you love my feet?” “Yes.” “And do you love my ankles?”
As Camille Javal (Bardot) requests affirmations from her husband, Paul (Michel Piccoli), in a dueling version of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” it seems the two are the poster children for marital bliss. But the cracks begin to show when Paul is hired by producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rewrite the script for director Fritz Lang’s remake of The Odyssey. Prokosch, channeling the Ugly American, brazenly flirts with Camille in front of Paul, who, despite this slight, has no objections to leaving his breathtaking wife alone with a lecherous brute.
Paul’s perceived apathy makes him less of a man in Camille’s eyes, and, accordingly, her contempt (hence the title) toward him begins to eat at her. And it seems incomprehensible that Paul wouldn’t want to hold his wife a little tighter, as Camille—all suggestively tousled locks, bee-stung lips, and flawless physique—is essentially the physical embodiment of sex. But instead he focuses on his work, offers unsolicited criticism of her intellect, disregards her opinions, and doesn’t realize what he has until it’s already gone.
In what seems like less than 24 hours, Camille and Paul are physically and psychologically pushing each other away, until she finally admits, “You’re right—I no longer love you.” In the end, their story is nearly as heartbreaking as the Greek tragedy that tore them apart.