Adalberto Liberta could hardly have known that his most enduring legacy would not turn out to be one of his grand civic structures but a small house greatly modified by an eccentric client. Thanks largely to Jean-Luc Godard’s choice to feature the house in his 1963 release, Contempt, starring Brigette Bardot, the house continues to generate interest and holds a place not only in architectural history but popular culture as well.
It is famously ambiguous – it can neither be attributed to any one architectural movement nor particular design philosophy but its strange originality set it apart. Oddly composed of a single clunky mass, it has a rail-less wedge shaped stair leading to a vast edgeless platform terrace across the entire roof of the building. It is a building certifiers nightmare. Dangerous and absurd, the building is said to represent it’s owners taste for the subversive and surreal. Is it a stair or is it a roof? It seemingly leads nowhere and yet the view from the top is everything. Malaparte regularly used shocking imagery, horror and revulsion in his writing in order to engage his readers and sell his particular message (a message which ranged every political spectrum throughout the course of his career) so the house is seen very much as an expression of it’s owners personality.
The film is an important one in the development of modern cinema and its metaphors and double meanings continue to be studied by film students the world over. Built in 1935, the house was already 20 years old when it was cast in the film as the home of vulgar american film producer Jeremy Prokosch (played by Jack Palance). The peeling paint and rusted bars provided just the right menacing quality while the dramatic site with its white rocks and cobalt sea suited Godards intense colour palette.
Bardot stars as Camille, the undervalued trophy wife of an emerging screenwriter, who’s resentment over her husbands ‘use’ of her grows like rot and she spends the entire duration of the film in a bitter sulk. Her husband on the other hand (played by Michel Piccoli) spends the film demanding to know why she doesn’t love him anymore (yes, they both need a good slap). Based on Alberto Moravia’s infuriating novel of the same name, the story follows the same blow by blow post mortem of a fatal marriage. At once engaging and agonising it is no coincidence that it all ends with a car crash.