La Ronde (The Criterion Collection) (Version française)
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The exquisite circularity of the roundelay has always been an attractive cinematic device, but never has it been used with more delicacy and canny insight than in La Ronde, Max Ophüls's adaptation of the Arthur Schnitzler play Reigen. The camera glides, swirls, and delicately dances around fleeting moments between lovers, from chance meetings and secret trysts, to the sincere but hopeless courtship by a besotted admirer, to the relaxed banter of cuckolding married couples. Ophüls's wry glimpses behind closed doors and pulled curtains are both cynical and sweet, generous of character but suspect of motive. As one scene ends, we waltz along as the characters change partners and dance again and again; we follow streetwalkers and soldiers, courtesans and counts, until we come full circle. Returning to the superb metaphor of the carousel, where dapper Anton Walbrook wanders about as host and commentator (a sort of literary ringmaster, like Peter Ustinov in Lola Montes), Ophüls plays at the game of love with a cocked grim and a sly jab, though he never belittles or judges. What could easily have descended into farce is lifted into loving satire by Ophüls's elegant touch and sparkling wit. A huge success in Europe, its continental attitude wasn't embraced by American audiences at the time. But it has come to be regarded one of Ophüls's finest and most beautifully visualized films. Everyone is somebody's fool, and isn't it wonderful? --Sean Axmaker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Max Ophuls's production is very stylized, with rococo turn-of-the-century sets. It's light and witty, but insightful, too, with the emphasis on the fleeting aspects of love and the vanity and double standards held to by the male of the species. The movie has everything going for it: a brilliant idea, a wonderful script, great acting, and terrific camerawork. Movie-making at its finest. [It was banned in America for four years on obscenity charges: the women enjoy their illicit love affairs a little too much for the censors' tastes at the time. Finally they came to their senses - the censors, I mean.]
I first saw this film back during my college days and dreamed of playing on stage the narrator who is interactive throughout the story. Imagine my surprise when I obtained an English copy of the play and discovered there was no narrator in it! The filmmaker had created the character to enhance the film and indeed he does. As played by Anton Walbrook (the impresario of THE RED SHOES), he is the epitome of Old World grace and charm and has the best lines as well. No wonder as he is supposed to be the alter ego of the director himself.
The title REIGEN (ring or circular movement) refers to the nature of the play where one character has sex with another who then has sex with someone else and so on until, coming full circle, it ends with a final character having sex with the first one. All of the encounters take place off camera and there are even amusing attempts by the narrator (who introduces each character) to occasionally censor the action. The symbol of this "circle of love" which occurs throughout the film is a carousel or merry-go-round.
The film was made by Max Ophuls, a German filmmaker who wound up in France by way of the United States. His films are famous for his continually moving camera and interesting visual compositions. He was reportedly Stanley Kubrick's favorite director. Aside from the Austrian born Walbrook, the film features the top French acting talent of the day including Danielle Darrieux, Jean-Louis Barrault, and just starting her career, Simone Signoret. The celebrated music, including the LA RONDE theme, was composed by Oscar Straus (no relation to Johann).
I could go on and on about this film but I'll restrain myself. The simplest thing for you to do is to go out and rent it to see for yourselves and I wouldn't be surprised if you wind up buying it. Of course it is "old-fashioned' filmmaking. It's in black and white, has elegant tracking shots, and is full of characters who have something to say (even if it's in French) which means its appeal will unfortunately be limited to those who prefer more "upscale" fare. Yet if you take the time to sit back and take it in (and that's important), then you'll be amply rewarded. It's a film you may find yourself returning to again and again. This Criterion edition is beyond reproach.
Well, this was quite the film. There is much here to enjoy. Beautiful, poetic, witty dialogue. Breaking down of the fourth wall. Strong female characters that revel in their sexuality and the power it has over the men in their lives. Scenes of passion that build slowly, almost in a suspenseful manner. Lots of thoughts by the characters about the nature of love and casual sex, marriage, infidelity, and even women who, while not using the "contemporary term" indulging in a "friends with benefits" situation with other men. This is definitely a dialogue driven film, but it is beautifully delicious, witty, thoughtful and passionate dialogue.
The film starts with our mysterious puppet master/raconteur played by Anton Wallbrook. His entrance is terrific. Walking the foggy streets of Vienna, he engages the audience immediately by asking us what part he plays:
"What part do I play in this story? Author? Accomplice? Passer by?" As he soon reveals..."I am you...I am the personification of your desire to know everything"
His clothes are contemporary, but he slowly starts to change his clothes to become more "period friendly". As he starts to blend in to his surroundings in almost a chameleon like fashion (which he does periodically throughout the film) he asks the audience...
"But just where are we? On a stage? A film set? One doesn't know any more."
It's dialogue like this that slowly transports us to an almost magical place that seems both real, and not real. This gives the film a wonderful element of fantasy.
As it turns out, we have been transported to 1900 Vienna. As our Raconteur happily conveys..."Ahh, the past. I adore the past. It's so much more peaceful than the present and so much more certain than the future"
It's dialogue like that that drew me into this film immediately.
Soon, the mysterious puppet master takes us to a rather magical merry go round which is the engine of the film. It travels in a circle, or "La Ronde" as does the films plot. Connecting all the vignettes of stories of love and affairs. As the narrator turns the merry go round, a prostitute mysteriously appears. Wallbrook leads her off of the magical carrousel and tells her that she will meet a soldier which she does. They make love in a dark alley. He must leave her to return to his barracks on time or else he forfeits his weekend leave. This is the beginning of the first segment of the film "The Soldier and The Girl". After their tryst, we go to the next segment in the series of tales...The Chambermaid and The Young Man. In this segment, the soldier meets a girl at a dance. As he leaves for war, they continue to write. Meanwhile she gets a job as a chambermaid for a rich couple and their very attractive son. This scene is very steamy indeed.
Each segment features one person from the previous story having an affair with the next person and so on and so on until the story returns to the first character. At the end of each characters "coupling", the Raconteur's marry go round starts turning to lead us to the next story. While we don't see any actual sex, we see characters entering bedrooms, and many scenes of blissful, post coital conversations that are very funny and full of wit. Simone Simon is wonderful as the seemingly innocent maid who under the surface is boiling with passion. However, the scenes with Darrieux is the real attraction in this film.
It is unabashedly sexy, scandalous, romantic and just plain fun. Walbrook doesn't just tell the story, he sings it. He manipulates the characters, leading them to their respective trysts, as well as running interference to protect those trysts and to champion the illicit love that permeates the film. While it seems very adult in its subject matter, it is filled with a delightful mood and playfulness. It's almost disney'esque with its light hearted, playful tone and in its very esoteric storytelling.
From the opening credits when we hear the music, it sets a tone of fun. The music by Oscar Straus is also very exceptional in how he captures the mood of playfulness of the characters and actually is able to augment the suspense we feel when we wonder "will they or won't they". The cinematography is top notch by Christian Matras. The film is so fluid and surreal in its transitions from scene to scene. Each segment starts with a level of slight uncomfortability which then melts into a passion that both parties are more than willing...no..desperate to engage in. It's a beautiful film visually, full of the cream of the crop of beautiful French actresses who are extremely talented and fascinating to watch. I couldn't take my eyes off of this film and enjoyed it just as much on second viewing. This film is about a wonderful love of life, passion and sex. With wonderfully fleshed out women who aren't clichés or "sleazy" but simply looking to escape the mundane and to seek, voraciously, all that love, life and passion has to offer them. It's sexy, witty and just plain fun. Everyone in the film turns in a great performance.
Some of the segments move faster than others to be sure. Very slickly produced and very enjoyable. I've never seen anything like it. However...I can see how the people who enforced the code at the time made it difficult for the film to get any sort of wide release in the US. Highly recommended.
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