Tuesday, 5 August 2008

La Ronde (1950, France, Max Ophuls)

As alluded to in the previous piece, Ophuls' brief Hollywood career was completed after making 'Caught' and 'The Reckless Moment', but still at his creative peak, he resumed work in France, with 'La Ronde' being the first example of this. Based on 'Reigen', the play for Arthur Schnitzler which was banned for obscenity, a fate the film faced in certain countries, Ophuls weaves a mesmerising tale of a daisy chain of ten sexual partners (e.g. A sleeps with B, B sleeps with C, etc before returning back to A). Although Ophuls remains faithful to the original setting of the play, turn of the 20th century Vienna and scrutinises the sexual mores of society as well as its class differences, the crucial theme of the transmission of syphilis seems if not omitted, then underplayed, although this doesn't really undermine the satire too much.

One of Ophuls' masterstrokes is using the handsome and charismatic Anton Walbrook (most famous for 'The Red Shoes') as the film's narrator and master of ceremonies. An omnipotent presence over the events that unfolds, as well as influencing events to ensure the circle of lovers remains intact, he is the incarnation of our desire to know and dispenses romantic advice; "all are led the same merry dance, when love chooses its victims of chance". He initially sets up the whore with the soldier, then aids the pairing off of each subsequent set of lovers, all to keep the carousel going.

Ophuls shows how sexual impropriety crosses class boundaries; notice how the whore pairs off with both the soldier and the aristocrat, representing two arms of high society. The sole married couple both have affairs - as the husband says "marriage is a perplexing mystery" and perhaps the young gentleman who sleeps with his maid represents a sense of economic exploitation. Using typically elaborate camerawork, never more evident that the opening scene, unbroken for several minutes as it follows Walbrook's introduction and summation of the events at hand, Ophuls pans the camera in circular directions as if to denote the circular nature of the waltz of love. Good natured and whimsical, though no less specific in its observation of sexual attitudes of the time, 'La Ronde' is an enchanting cinematic experience by a film maker clearly on the crest of a wave. 4/5
'La Ronde' is released on DVD on 8th September from Second Sight.

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