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La Ronde

LA RONDE



France, 1950


Director: Max Ophüls

Production: Saint-Maurice; black and white, 35mm; running time: 97 minutes; length: 2,600 meters. Released 17 June 1950, Paris. Filmed 23 January 1950–18 March 1950 in Saint-Maurice studios.


Producer: Sacha Gordine; screenplay: Jacques Natanson and Max Ophüls, from the play Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler; photography: Christian Matras; editor: Leonide Azar; sound operator: Pierre Calvet; production designer: Jean d'Eaubonne; music: Oscar Straus; costume designer: Georges Annenkov.

Cast: Anton Walbrook (Master of Ceremonies); Simone Signoret (Léocardie, the prostitute); Serge Reggiani (Franz, the soldier); Simone Simon (Marie, the chambermaid); Jean Clarieux (Sergeant); Daniel Gélin (Alfred, the young man); Robert Vattier (Professor Schuller); Danielle Darrieaux (Emma Breitkopf); Fernand Gravey (Charles); Odette Joyeux (Working girl); Marcel Merovee (Toni); Jean-Louis Barrault (Robert Kühlenkampf); Isa Miranda (Charlotte, the comedienne); Charles Vissiere (Theatre manager); Gerard Philipe (Count); Jean Ozenne, Jean Landier, Rene Marjac, and Jacques Vertan (Silhouettes).


Publications


Script:

Ophüls, Max, and Jacques Natanson, La Ronde, in Avant-Scène duCinéma (Paris), 15 April 1963; in Masterworks of the French Cinema, London, 1974.


Books:

Roud, Richard, Max Ophüls: An Index, London, 1958.

Annekov, Georges, Max Ophüls, Paris, 1962.

Ophüls, Max, Max Ophüls par Max Ophüls, Paris, 1963.

Beylie, Claude, Max Ophüls. Paris, 1963.

Armes, Roy, French Cinema Since 1946: The Great Tradition, New York, 1976.

Willemen, Paul, editor, Ophüls, London, 1978.

Klinowski, Jacek, and Adam Garbicz, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle:A Guide to Its Achievement: Journey Two, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1979.

Williams, Alan, Max Ophüls and the Cinema of Desire, New York, 1980.

Horton, Andrew, and Jan Magretta, editors, Modern EuropeanFilmmakers and the Art of Adaptation, New York, 1981.

Beylie, Claude, Max Ophüls, Paris, 1984.

Tassone, Aldo, Max Ophüls, l'enchanteur, Torino, 1994.

White, Susan M., The Cinema of Max Ophüls: Magisterial Vision andthe Figure of a Woman, New York, 1995.


Articles:

Koval, Francis, "Interview with Ophüls," in Sight and Sound (London) July 1950.

Archer, Eugene, "Ophüls and the Romantic Tradition," in YaleFrench Studies (New Haven), no. 17, 1956.

"Ophüls Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1958.

Beylie, Claude, "De l'amour de l'art à l'art de l'amour," in AvantScène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 April 1963.

Beylie, Claude, "Max Ophüls," in Anthologie du Cinéma (Paris), June 1965.

"Ophüls Issue" of Film Comment (New York), Summer 1971.

Sarris, Andrew, "Max Ophüls," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1971.

Williams, A., "The Circles of Desire: Narration and Representation in La Ronde," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1973.

Camper, Fred, "Distance and Style: The Visual Rhetoric of Max Ophüls," in Monogram (London), no. 5, 1974.

Koval, Francis, "Interview with Ophüls (1950)," in Masterworks ofthe French Cinema, edited by John Weightman, New York, 1974.

"Ophüls Issues" of Filmkritik (Munich), November and December 1977.

Wyndham, F., in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1982.

Shipman, David, in Films and Filming (London), May 1982.

Thomas, D., in Movie (London), Summer 1982.

Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 456, January 1990.

Ophuls, Marcel, "La Ronde et le droit d'auteur," in Positif (Paris), no. 347, January 1990.

Piazzo, Philippe, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), no. 200, March-April 1990.

Amiel, Vincent, "La scène, primitive," in Positif (Paris), no. 350, April 1990.

Alter, Maria P., "From Der Reigen to La Ronde: Transposition of a Stageplay to the Cinema," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 24, no.1, January 1996.


* * *

With La Ronde, Max Ophüls returned home—to France, his adopted country, and in subject matter to Vienna, his spiritual home. After nine years of uneasy exile in America, the film marks the opening of the last, finest phase of his peripatetic career. Its mood of consummate artifice is established in the very first shot. In one long, unbroken take Anton Walbrook, dressed as an elegant man-about-town, strolls on to a sound stage, past lighting equipment, backdrops, and other paraphernalia, chatting urbanely to camera the while; hangs up hat, scarf and cape, wanders into the set of a small lamplit square, in which stands a carousel; steps on to it and—as Simone Signoret's prostitute emerges from the shadows—starts the mechanism. The merry-go-round of love is under way.

"Passion without love, pleasure without love, love without reciprocation"—these, according to Truffaut and Rivette, are the themes that engaged Ophüls, and certainly they sum up La Ronde. Each of his chain of characters pursues or is pursued, exploits or is exploited, loves or is not loved, as the carousel turns; and each encounter centres around the act, or the acting, of love. Schnitzler's play Reigen furnished the basis of the film, but his bleak cynicism is transmuted by Ophüls into a bitter-sweet irony, viewed through a haze of poetic nostalgia. Schnitzler intended his play as a metaphor for the transmission of venereal disease; the film scarcely lends itself to any such reading.

The film, like the play, is set in the Vienna of 1900: present actuality for Schnitzler (though the play's first public performance was not until 1921), but for Ophüls a romantic, fairy-tale city, stylised and charmingly unreal. To the tune of Oscar Straus's insidious waltz, the infinitely fluid camera which Ophüls made his own leads through an opulent world of boudoirs, cafés, misty streets and chambres privées, as each puppet-character repeats the same words, the same gestures, with different partners, at once deceiving and self-deceived. Only the master of ceremonies, the director's alter ego, is granted freedom, able to range through time and identity, proteanly appearing as waiter or coachman to nudge the action on its way, or share an epigram with the audience. Walbrook's subtle, delicate performance, gracefully avoiding the least hint of pretentiousness, holds the centre of the film, while around him circles a dazzling array of the finest acting talent of the period: Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Danielle Darrieux, Jean-Louis Barrault, Gérard Philipe (the latter two, admittedly, not quite at their best).

La Ronde was Ophüls's most successful, and most widely distributed, film. To audiences everywhere, especially in Britain and North America, it represented the epitome of everything witty, sophisticated and elegant: quintessentially French and Viennese at once. The Oscar Straus waltz became a popular hit. For some years the film was unavailable, due to legal complications, and Vadim's meretricious remake of 1964 offered a distinctly poor substitute. The Ophüls version resurfaced early in the 1980s, its reputation enhanced by its long absence, and proved as stylish and compelling as ever in its exposition of the director's perennial theme: the gulf between the ideal of love and its imperfect, transient reality.

—Philip Kemp

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