La Ronde on TCM

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.

Danielle Darrieux
Danielle Darrieux

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.

DVD of the Week – ‘The Godfather Collection: The Coppola Restoration’ – September 23, 2008

Francis Ford Coppola and Paramount first put out The Godfather Trilogy in a special edition in 2001, at a time when the archival materials at hand had yet to be extensively restored. The original negative was worn out and the prints used for mastering were not accurate to the original release. The new release The Godfather Collection: The Coppola Restoration, released on both DVD and Blu-ray, is a corrective.

"Now who's being naive, Kaye?"
"Now who's being naive, Kaye?"

Is it overkill to claim that The Godfather on Blu-ray is a sign of the format coming to maturity? Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s bestseller remains the great American epic of the immigrant dream turned family business. Al Pacino stars as Michael Corleone in this dark side of the American dream story, rising from clean-cut son of New York Godfather Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando in an Oscar –winning performance) to ruthless mob leader to modern American businessman trying to pull his family’s tentacles from the criminal world. The Godfather (1972) has become the great evocation of the dark side of the American Dream (“I believe in America,” it begins) and The Godfather, Part II (1974) is less a sequel than a further exploration of the family business that both reaches back from and looks beyond the story of the first film, contrasting Michael’s increasingly ruthless rise with the life of young Vito Corleone (played by Robert De Niro, who won his first Oscar for the role). Both films won multiple Oscars, including “Best Picture, Coppola picked up a Best Director award for Part II. Separately the films are masterpieces. Together, they are a landmark work of American cinema.

Francis Ford Coppola oversaw this DVD and cinematographer Gordon Willis personally supervised the restoration and mastering of the film for DVD, and new featurettes on the film and on the restoration process supplement the already rich collection of supplements carried over from the previous special edition.

Read the complete review on my MSN DVD column here.
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