Thursday, 3 June 2010

LA RONDE (1950)

Here's one to get excited about. I've waited years to see this - it was one of the few foreign language films my mother ever raved about but one that has eluded me for years although I did see the not so good version directed by Roger Vadim in the 1960's. Max Ophul's 1950 version of Arthur Schnitler's turn of the century play about sex is a masterpiece. On a technical level it is stunning - long takes, tracking shots to die for and some wonderful direction from Ophuls. Part of Ophuls greatness as a director is that even when you are aware of his technical virtuosity one tends to forget while watching the film for Ophuls style is always at the service of his story. I watched the film and fell in love with it. I then watched a long interview with Ophuls expert Alan Williams where he pointed out much that I had not consciously noticed. I then watched it again and looked for many of the points that Williams had noticed but found myself being drawn into the story and the characters yet again. It was not until I watched it a third time with a commentary that I could concentrate on the technical pyrotechnics employed by Opuls. Somebody once said that if you left a cinema remembering the musical score the composer had failed in his job. His music should enhance the action without drawing attention to itself. That is the secret of Ophuls style. The cast is superlative. Of course any film featuring the great Anton Walbrook is going to be special and here he is on top form as the "raconteur" - as sort of on screen narrator who is able to step in and out of character (and in and out of the film) at will, address the audience, move characters through time and at one point "censor" a scene by actually clipping the film with scissors!

He moves through Vienna is various disguises, changing costumes at will, commenting on the action and even giving one character directions on where to stand so that the story can commence. He is, in fact, Ophuls alter ego, allowing the director to step into the film. A character asks him "do I know you?" to which Walbrook replies "I get around." The part does not exist in the original play nor in the other two film versions. Anton Walbrook was third choice for the role but it is hard to believe that anybody could have been better and the actor is obviously enjoying the playfulness of the part immensely. The rest of the cast is a virtual who's who of post-war French cinema greats with Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Daniel Gelin, Danielle Darrieux, Jean-Loius Barrault and Gerard Philippe. Lowering the tone a bit, look out for some wonderful double entendres particularly in the Gerard Philippe sequence : "Didn't think you would come this morning" "let me hold your sword" "where can I put my helmet" - all worth of a CARRY ON. Yet this is not a French farce. It actually does have something to say about sex (without ever being moralising) and human nature and it does it with wit and style. It jumps straight into my top ten favourite films. Rating *****

Gerard Philippe and Simone Signoret


Terry Frost said...

I love the film. I now have a couple of other Ophuls films in the pile and I'm looking forward to seeing them

Weaverman said...

Likewise, Terry. I've just added everything available by Ophuls (even those I've seen before) to my rental list.

Cerpts said...

Wow. Sounds like an even better film than AVATAR! I must say I look forward very much to seeing it now. Like you said, you can't go wrong with Walbrook. And I have sadly seen all too few Ophuls films; like you I've wanted to but something else always seems to nudge Ophuls out of top place so I never get around to actually seeing more. I love commentaries and documentaries that add so much to the viewing experience as well. Sounds like a winner!