bw 97 min.
Director: Max Ophuls
CLV: $49.95 - available
1 disc, catalog # CC1416L
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
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,
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
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.
CAST AND CREDITS
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
ABOUT THE TRANSFER
La Ronde was digitally transferred in its original theatrical
aspect ratio of 1.33:1 from a composite duplicate negative.