on 1 November 2008
A chocolate confection of a movie.
Set in Vienna circa 1900, based on a play by Viennese playwrite Arthur Schnitzler, it's a series of vignettes more about lust than love. The vignettes flow together by having one person appearing the the next -- generally being the seducer in one, the victim in the other.
As I understand it, Ophuls moderated the promiscuous tone of Schnitzler's play. There is definitely a sense of regret and loss over these random flings despite their inevitableness.
Still, the tone is somewhat light, at times almost flighty. There's a master of ceremonies (Anton Walbrook) holding the entire thing together, as well as a pretty melody by Oscar Stauss. There are even the daring intrusions of moviemaking -- a clapboard, a filmstrip with the sex scene being cut out -- and, one time, a hugely amusing bit of symbolism with the merry-go-round.
As with LE PLAISIR, many fine French actors appear. Sometimes, the same ones. Danielle Darrieux at her most beautiful. Simone Simon. Daniel Gélin. Jean-Louie Barrault (a little over-the-top). Simone Signoret. Gérard Philipe (a beautifully nuanced performance).
Similar to LE PLAISIR (Region 1) -- but different. And about equal in quality and enjoyment.
The Criterion DVD extras include a film commentary, an informative presentation by writer Allan Williams, and informative interviews with Daniel Gélin (1989) and son of Max, Marcel Ophuls (2008).
"La Ronde," ("The Merry-Go-Round"), (1950) is a steamy little French film masterpiece in black and white, telling a convoluted tale of interlocking sexual relationships, as on a merry-go-round, in a tight 93 minutes. It is a BAFTA (the British Oscar equivalent) Best Film Award winner, directed by the well-known German-born director Max Ophuls (Le Plaisir [DVD],Madame De... [DVD]...). The film was based on a notorious play by the Viennese doctor Arthur Schnitzler, set at the turn of the 20th century, as was the original theatrical entertainment. It's a lovely, lyrical romantic comedy that comes to us from an incredibly rococo, lush Vienna, decorated to within an inch of its life. The movie is told in a series of vignettes, in which a new character has an affair with one from the previous scene, eventually bringing the story back to its beginning. The vagaries of life are such that Schnitzler's play is now best known to audiences worldwide by this French film made of it by a German director.
The attention paid to recreate Vienna 1903 is remarkable, and gives us a very convincing facsimile of the city. Insofar as French actors go, the film is pretty much an all-star production. It opens on Leocadie, a prostitute who enjoys her work, played by Simone Signoret (Casque D'Or [DVD]); she takes home Franz, a soldier, for free (Serge Reggiani, CASQUE D'OR). Franz has an interlude with Marie, a chambermaid, played by the gorgeous Simone Simon (La Bete Humaine [DVD]). Marie has an affair with Alfred, the young man of the house where she works (Daniel Gelin). Alfred goes on to have an affair with the married woman, Emma Breitkopf, the beautiful Danielle Darrieux (Les Demoiselles De Rochefort  [DVD]). Charles Breitkopf, her husband (Fernand Gravey), has an affair with Anna (Odette Joyeux) , of irregular income, who goes on to have an affair with the poet Robert Kuhlenkampf, played by the great Jean-Louis Barrault (Les Enfants Du Paradis [DVD]). The poet has an affair with Charlotte, an actress, played by Isa Miranda. And Charlotte starts an affair with the Count, played by Gerard Philipe (Fanfan La Tulipe [DVD). And like that, turn carousel, turn. Things are held together by the Raconteur, a wise, all-seeing narrator, played by the Austrian actor Anton Walbrook (Gaslight  [DVD],Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Special Edition) [DVD] ).
Director Max Ophüls was known for his circular camera movements and his obsession with detail. His films often dealt with women coming to terms with their romantic illusions. He was born Max Oppenheimer in Germany, and began his career as a stage actor and director in the twenties. He soon began to work under the pseudonym Max Ophüls, the name of a distinguished old German family. In the early 1930s Ophüls began to work as an assistant to film director Anatole Litvak. Around 1933 Ophuls fled the Nazis and immigrated to France. In 1941 he immigrated again, this time to the United States, where he worked for 10 years before he went back to France in 1950. He was voted the 39th greatest director of all time by "Entertainment Weekly," and is the father of the noted French director Marcel Ophuls.
Arthur Schnitzler was the scion of two prominent Hungarian/Jewish families of doctors. He was born in Vienna, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and became a doctor himself in 1885. He worked at a major Viennese hospital for a while, but eventually abandoned medicine to write full-time. His works were often controversial, both for their frank description of sexuality (The Viennese father of psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, in a letter to Schnitzler, confessed "I have gained the impression that you have learned through intuition -- though actually as a result of sensitive introspection -- everything that I have had to unearth by laborious work on other persons.") Schnitzler was attacked as a pornographer after the debut of his play Reigen, upon which LA RONDE is based. The furor after this play was couched in the strongest anti-Semitic terms; his works would later be cited as "Jewish filth" by Adolf Hitler. Ophuls' films were all about charm and elegance, two qualities LA RONDE has in spades. The material of this film is not nearly as shocking as it was once considered; believe me, we routinely see much more so today. Try it; I think you'll like it.
This is a film that's perfectly constructed, immaculately acted and brilliantly directed. While it retains the structure and much of the dialogue from Schnitzler's original play, it replaces its moralising tone (it was originally a kind of morality play, preaching against the spread of the destructive little spirochete, syphilis) with French joie de vivre in all the delights of love - or rather sex, since love makes only an occasional appearance.
The concept is simple. We are taken on a round of sexual liaisons that incidentally works its way up the class ladder at the same time (with a slight detour through the Grisette, the Poet and the Actress). The circle is closed off by the drunken encounter between the Count and the prostitute, taking us back to the character who started the whole dance off.
The actors are the cream of the French profession at the time - which is saying something. The likes of Gerard Philipe, Simone Signoret, Danielle Darrieux and Jean-Louis Barrault, all give pitch-perfect performances, making the succession of duets a truly ensemble piece. Towering above them all, though, is Anton Walbrook as our Master-of-Ceremonies and puppet-master. His style of acting - naturalistic, laid-back but totally subsumed in the character he's playing - actually feels very modern.
But, despite this starry list of performers, this is very much Max Ophuls' film. His wonderfully fluid camera-work carries us trippingly through the Vienna of 1900. It makes an interesting comparison with the almost exactly contemporaneous Third Man, where Carol Reed's stark, angled, expressionist camera reveals a very different Vienna of half a century later. Ophuls' single-take 5-minute opening shot is a tour-de-force to set beside the opening shots of Touch of Evil and The Player. It takes in special fog effects: it incorporates changes of setting from miniature theatre to film set to rooftop views to a Viennese square: it moves from the present to the past, from Spring sunlight to a balmy night: there are changes of wardrobe: there's dialogue throughout, singing in synch with an orchestral backing and perfectly cued action as the roundabout begins to turn and brings us the seamless introduction of the first of our characters. That roundabout - merry-go-round might be a better word in the context of the film - almost becomes a character in its own right, even suffering an embarrassing breakdown at the crucial moment of the meeting between the Young Man and the Married Woman. The way that Walbrook's master-of-ceremonies slips in and out of the action is perfectly managed. So, too, his more objective role as Brechtian observer of all this with delightfully knowing touches like the use of clapper-board to introduce the next scene.
And through all of it is Oscar Straus's unforgettable waltz, tying it all together and swirling us through this wonderful, hedonistic, fin-de-siecle dance. An unmissable movie, fully deserving of its BAFTA best film award at the time. The DVD also includes some excellent extra material, including a fascinating interview with Daniel Gelin on working with Ophuls.
Max Ophuls’ 1950 film is another stunningly shot, witty, perceptive and (particularly) inventive piece of cinema – just about as impressive a cinematic take on the fickle nature of love as I could imagine. The film-maker’s focus on film as a 'visual concept’, whose production technicians deserve due acknowledgement, is apparent from La Ronde’s credits where Ophuls’ superlative cast (of the 'great and the good’ of French – and European – cinema past, present and future) are 'relegated’ to come after the director’s technical collaborators, perhaps most tellingly his cinematographer Christian Matras (who once again delivers with aplomb Ophuls’ noted long tracking shots, and off-kilter and full-frame shots), composer Oscar Straus (whose waltz theme here is instantly recognisable) and art designer Jean d’Eaubonne (whose 'year 1900 Vienna’ sets are suitably ornate and brilliantly conceived). But, La Ronde is not (of course) just a spectacle – it also boasts a sharp, subtly ironic screenplay by Ophuls and Jacques Natanson and a whole host of fine acting performances.
La Ronde’s master of ceremonies is, of course, Anton Walbrook’s 'calm chameleon’ who, via his hilariously unreliable carousel, guides us through a series of vignettes (literally 'snipping out’ any unsavoury moments) depicting the nature of love in all its many facets (spiritual, physical, fidelity, deception, transience, pretence, world-weariness, etc). Walbrook is essentially playing it for subtle laughs here, but his omni-(changing) presence and the seamless way characters ‘morph’ between storylines is one of the film’s greatest strengths and sources of innovation. Acting (and vignette-) wise, there is not (for me) a weak moment, but my favourites would include the pairing of Simone Simon’s 'knowing innocent’ and maid, Marie, with Daniel Gélin’s shy young gentleman, Alfred (their scene is one of the most compelling depictions of (barely) suppressed eroticism I have ever witnessed!), together with that of Fernand Gravey and (an again, outstanding) Danielle Darrieux’s unhappily married couple, Charles and Emma Breitkopf, whose (separate) bed scene is a masterclass in understated deception (and is brilliantly shot as well). Elsewhere, there are other great performances by Jean-Louis Barrault as the arrogant, pretentious poet, Robert Kuhlenkampf, and from Isa Miranda’s actress Charlotte and Gérard Philipe’s count (whose coupling is censored by Walbrook in another hilarious moment). A final mention to Simone Signoret’s prostitute, Leocadie, who tops and (poignantly) tails Ophuls’ film in impressive, evocative fashion.
It’s a film whose 90 minutes running time has not an ounce of fat in it – constantly inventive and engaging. Comparator films (and with Ophuls, more generally) are difficult – I would say there are elements of the likes of Carné, Powell and Pressburger and Visconti (each for different reasons), but really Ophuls has (for me, at least) something of a unique place in cinema.
on 4 September 2015
La Ronde is one of the most personal and unique films ever done. To me it is like a perfect mix of literary rollercoaster and a cinematographic carnival, where the richness of the stories, the variety of characters and undefined moods of the situations create a elegant yet mysterious experience to those who have the open mind and curiosity not to avoid that just because it is a film from another time, world and idea of cinema.
Max Ophuls is maybe the old director that is closest to Kubrick (maybe not a mere coincidence that both films are taken from Schnitzler), and here you can tell by the very opening scene, that is quite unsettling and reminds of eyes wide shut disturbing masks.
La Ronde is a bitter, fatalistic, existential and yet paradox ally lighthearted and wise look at mankind ethereal and unresolved questions about love, relationships, ambition, solitude, memories of gone youth and how to approach getting older and die. And all in one film that is so fluid and perfect that looks like a unique long shot. I'm looking forward to its blu ray release
"What is still missing for love to start its rounds? A waltz...and here it is. The waltz turns. The carousel turns...and the merry-go-round of love can begin turning, too."
If Le Plaisir is a clever study in how pleasure can lead to despair, hopelessness and, fortunately, more pleasure, and if Madame D... is a masterpiece of love's elegant sadness, perhaps La Ronde can be seen as a carousel of pleasure, where men and women's most natural instinct is celebrated with joy and infidelity.
Max Ophuls' La Ronde is a wonderful mixture of anticipation, pleasure and rue. It might even make you think wisdom could be involved. We're now in Vienna in 1900, a world of waltz, where lovers change lovers until we come back full circle. This delightful waltz includes counts, maids, actresses, soldiers, poets, prostitutes and married couples. Thanks to our host and escort, played by Anton Walbrook, we are not simply observers. We're complicit. "I am you," he tells us, "the personification of your desire to know everything."
On this carousel of pleasure, amusingly disguised for some as love, we can savor both the situations and the actors that Max Ophuls has given us. Ophuls is the master chef, but it is the likes of Danielle Darrieux, Jean-Louis Barrault, Simone Simon, Simone Signoret, Gerard Philipe and all the rest who keep this soufflé from falling. And speaking of falling, one of the most amusing and endearing episodes is our host encountering a momentary breakdown of the carousel, then fixing it in time for Daniel Gelin to continue with his waltz in the arms of Madame Breitkopf (Darrieux).
"True love is possible only where there is truth and purity" says Madame Breitkopf's husband to her in bed one evening, a few hours after her meeting with the young man played by Gelin. The next evening he'll meet the young girl he will make his mistress. Thank goodness truth and purity have little to do with pleasure, which needs only desire, a bit of self-delusion and a willingness not to learn from experience,
It's difficult to watch Madame D... without wanting to weep. It's difficult to watch La Ronde without wanting to smile. This is a movie to take delight in just as it is, without too much earnest analysis. Not the least of its charms is the recurring waltz, "Der Reigen" by Oscar Straus, which our lovers dance to in each other's arms.
`La Ronde' portrays a merry-go-round of love: Leocodie, a woman of the street, meets Franz (a soldier) who meets Marie (a maid) who meets a young man called Alfred, who meets ... Well, you get the picture by now! After ten liaisons, we return to Leocodie and the circle is complete. What was scandalous in 1900s Vienna was a popular film in the France of the 1950s, but even Ophuls has no nudity, not even a bare man's chest. Bedroom scenes are clothed.
In many disguises, gay actor Anton Walbrook plays the world-weary master-of-ceremonies. The film is somewhat charming and not without humour, as can be imagined with all the games of seduction being played and the deceptions made and the excuses engineered.
I came to this - my first Max Ophuls movie - from two directions: a love of Vienna and a desire to collect the films of Anton Walbrook. Set in the Austro-Hungarian capital of 1900, it is based on a somewhat notorious play by Arthur Schnitzler. Ophuls added Walbrook's part as the central guiding spirit of the film adaptation.
I learned this last fact from the insightful commentary provided to the film by Susan White. She also informs us that Ophuls cleverly set up the production to replicate the theatre, even involving the orchestra on-stage, and with Walbrook addressing the camera at times, even once introducing an episode with a film clapperboard. Later he is seen as a censor, cutting out the sex scene: this was 1950 after all.
Her insightful commentary also includes details on the design and production of the film as well as providing brief biographies of the stars. She also points out things that the viewer might probably have missed (on a conscious level) the first time around, such as the use of props, shadows, and mirrors. She places the work of Ophuls in its cinematic context, but additionally expands this appreciation into the social, moral, and economic context of the times. She compares the mores of 1900 Vienna with the time of the film's production and also with other Schnitzler transformations, such as Kubrick's `Eyes Wide Shut' of 1999.
Other extras comprise a twelve-minute interview with one of the stars, Daniel Gelin, and an insightful forty-minute talk (2007) with Alan Williams, professor of French and of Cinema Studies at Rutger University. He sums up `La Ronde' by saying "it's fun, sexy, philosophical, and aesthetically interesting." I agree, and it perhaps seems ripe for a remake with twenty-first century mores (including one or two gay liaisions).
on 1 February 2014
David Thomson's brilliant book 'A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema' led me to this gem of a film. Anton Walbrook delights as the master of ceremonies and there is great support from other celluloid heroes like Danielle Darrieux. This is what cinema is all about. Max Ophuls at the top of his game on the carousel of dreams.
on 4 March 2013
Although old, B&W and somewhat dated, this film still holds the audience entranced. True to the original, the script allows for individual acting interpretation, and is a joy to watch. It helps to have read the book.
on 31 December 2012
excellent to see again in good quality Have seen this film previously in art cinemas and it was a much better copy on dvd and seen on screen