The droll elegance of Max Ophuls graces the screen of Turner Classic Movies with La Ronde, one of my favorites of his wise and witty romances.
The great films of director Max Ophuls, the cinema’s most eloquent conductor of love stories both tragic and droll, haunt the space between the idealism of unconditional love and the reality of fickle lovers in a world of social barriers. Yet his films are anything but cynical; ironic certainly, but also melancholy, sad and wistful, and always respectful of the dignity of those who love well if not too wisely. La Ronde (1950) marked the German-born director’s triumphant return to Europe (he had fled to America in World War II) with a film of sparking wit, visual grace, continental sophistication and elegant poise. The director arrived in Paris in 1949 to develop a project for American producer Walter Wanger (with whom he had made his American masterpiece, The Reckless Moment, 1949) with which they hoped to entice Greta Garbo out of retirement. When that project, and others, failed to come together, Ophuls went to work for French producer Sacha Gordine on an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play Reigen. Ophuls and his screenwriter, Jacques Natanson, preserved the play’s characters and the circular structure of lovers who meet for brief encounters then change partners in a daisy chain of affairs that bring us full circle. However, they replaced the subject of Schnitzler’s play (which follows the spread of venereal disease through the rounds of partners) and the cynical tone with his own sensibility: everybody is somebody’s fool in La Ronde.
Along with the ten characters of the original, Ophuls adds an eleventh: the “Meneur de jeu,” a master of ceremonies, or perhaps a conductor in the orchestra of seduction. Played by Anton Walbrook, this combination narrator, stage manager and director guides the audience from behind the scenes of a studio into this grown-up fairy tale version of fin-de-siecle Vienna, a romanticized vision of a romantic past created like a half-scale model. He trades his street dress for evening clothes, cape and cane, as if dressing up for a night at the opera, and then meets the first player, a streetwalker played by Simone Signoret, as she is carried along on the carousel he winds to life. “Are you making fun of me?” she asks this gently sardonic figure in evening clothes and cape. “I make fun of no one,” he replies, and it is true. He passes no judgment and, if anything, seems protective of these fickle lovers who come together for a night, a day, a tryst, and then move on to the next.
Read the complete article here. La Ronde plays late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, September 6.