francecomedy1950 bw 97 min.
Director: Max Ophuls
CLV: $49.95 - available
1 disc, catalog # CC1416L

Untitled Document

Max Ophuls' La Ronde (1950) -- adapted by Jacques Natanson and Ophuls from Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen -- transforms the turn of the century Viennese sex rondelay into the quintessential Ophulsian romance. The film transfigures the demons of desire into a waltz-time meditation on the eternal discrepancy between le plaisir and le bonheur in the treacherous realm of l'amour.

There are eleven degrees of separation in the plot. A whimsical master of ceremonies (Anton Walbrook) tells a prostitute (Simone Signoret) to pick up a soldier (Serge Reggiani); he in turn, seduces a maid (Simone Simon); she then dallies with the young man (Daniel Gelin) of the house by which she is employed; he then arranges a discreet rendezvous with a married woman (Danielle Darrieux).

The merry-go-round breaks down temporarily, and while the M. C. repairs the mechanical metaphor, the married woman consoles the crestfallen young man who has been unable to perform sexually. On his second try -- concurrent with the merry-go-round's repair -- the affair is consummated, and the Oscar Strauss waltz resumes its lilting melody. The married woman is then seen in a droll but calm bedtime scene with her pompous husband (Fernand Gravey); he subsequently cheats on his wife with a model (Odette Joyeux); she later stands him up for a poet and playwright (Jean-Louis Barrault); he breaks an appointment with the model to resume an affair with his leading lady (Isa Miranda); she then captivates a military officer of the nobility (Gerard Philipe) in the morning only to lose him in the evening to the same prostitute who set off all the elective affinities in the first place. The waltz is concluded. The merry-go-round ceases its relentlessly ironic circling of the changing couples, and the M. C. bids the audience a wistful, wiser, sadder adieu.

Banned by the New York State Board of Regents for obscenity, La Ronde finally opened in New York on March 16, 1954 (a full four years after its Paris release), after the decision was overturned by the U. S. Supreme Court. In his review for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther dismissed the film as something of a let-down "after all the censorial tumult." La Ronde was a saucy little film...about as nifty and naughty as a lady's slipper filled with champagne." After this flight of Gay Nineties levity, Crowther got down to the puritanical nitty-gritty: "As a matter of fact, the idea of it is so sadly disenchanting and grimly moral that it somehow defeats the pleasant purpose of its elegant wit and old-world charm." In other words, Ophuls had presumed to strike a serious note or two on a subject Crowther perceived as frivolous.

As it happens, La Ronde has stood the test of time better than its adverse critiques. Indeed, its charms seem more lucid and luminous in the '90s than they did in the '50s. Its all-stat European cast has lost none of its stellar luster. And the patented Ophulsian camera movements have lost none of there lyrical profundity.

To assert the cinematic greatness of La Ronde as I do, one must reject the criterion of "social significance" that ruled the critical roost in Crowther's time: Show Man (though seldom Woman) in the direst material straits; the message boys of the medium can then imply a solution to social problems. Ophuls offers no such comforting consolation; his elegant characters lack nothing and lose everything. There is no escape from the trap of time. Not even the deepest and most sincere love can deter the "now" from its rendezvous with the "then," and no amount of self-sacrifice can prevent desire from becoming embalmed in memory. "Quelle heure est-il?" ask the characters in La Ronde. But it is always too late, and the moment has always passed.

This is the ultimate meaning of Ophulsian camera movement: Time does not stop. Montage tends to suspend time in the limbo of abstract images, but the moving camera records inexorably the passage of time, moment by moment. As we follow the characters, step by step, up and down stairs, up and down streets, and round and round a ballroom of a carousel, we realize their imprisonment in time. We know that they can never escape, but we know also that they will never lose their poise and grace for the sake of futile desperation. They will dance beautifully, they will walk purposefully, they will love deeply, and they will die gallantly, and they will never whine or whimper, or even discard their vanity. And Max Ophuls will follow them through his camera lens into eternity.

La Ronde is a work of mixed moods and tempos. After a harsh opening with the most callously transient sex transacted between Signoret's streetwalker and Reggiani's crude and stingy soldier, the couples rise perceptibly in respectability and social graces, until high and low ultimately meet through the crucible of carnality in Philipe's chastened count and Signoret's spiritualized courtesan. The count cannot even remember in his morning hangover that he completed his sexual transaction the night before. In the moment when the fragment of memory returns, he realizes that he has drunk his whole life away, and is now only a hollow shell of a man. My favorite characters in the piece are Darrieux's awakened wife, and Simon's poignant housemaid traveling through time to her destiny.

There is humor and heartbreak and, finally, a graceful imparted wisdom in this enchanting entertainment.

--Andrew Sarris



The Master of Ceremonies ... Anton Walbrook

The Girl ... Simone Signoret

The Soldier ... Serge Reggiani

The Maid ... Simone Simon

The Young Man ... Daniel Gelin

The Wife ... Danielle Darrieux

The Husband ... Fernand Gravey

The Young Miss ... Odette Joyeux

The Poet ... Jean-Louis Barrault

The Actress ... Isa Miranda

The Count ... Gerard Philipe


Directed by Max Ophuls

Produced by Sacha Gordine

Written by Max Ophuls & Jacques Natanson

Based on the play Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler

Director of photography Christian Matras

Edited by Leonide Azar

Music by Oscar Strauss



La Ronde was digitally transferred in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 from a composite duplicate negative.

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