La Ronde Reviews
I have to say LA RONDE reminds me a lot of the pre-code musicals directed by Ernst Lubitsch - but with less music. LA RONDE certainly has as lavish a look as Lubitsch's THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, which is always a plus. It also manages to prance around the subject of much sexual activity without actually showing anything at all. But the subject matter was hot enough for the film to be banned in the U.S. during it's initial release. It's really very tame by today's more graphic standards - so I think you will enjoy this more if you compare it to other films of it's time period.
The characters (portrayed by literally a who's who in classic French cinema) in the film are shown each in turn involved in moments of sexual encounters. It begins with a prostitute (Simone Signore) offering a "freebie" to a soldier (Serge Reggiani). The soldier in turn is involved with a maid (Simone Simon - yummy). The maid has a fling with her master's son (Daniel Gélin)...then the son with a older married woman (Danielle Darrieux)...and so on and so forth until it comes around full circle back again to the prostitute as per implied by the title.
There is an all-knowing narrator (Alton Walbrrok) who also appears in various guises throughout the story. One particular moment showed Walbrook censoring out a love scene with a pair of scissors - which cracked me up.
The film is beautifully photographed, as I mentioned above - and I have encountered this type of circular narrative format before, I'm sure...but cannot place it. Probably Roger Vadim's CIRCLE OF LOVE...but it's really been awhile since I've seen that. I know I've seen one porno which used the same storytelling technique. At least there is a porno director emulating Max Ophüls, heh!!!
Max Ophüls's LA RONDE is carried by its stunning visual style, but can never overcome its basic inconsequentiality. In a clever gimmick, Anton Walbrook serves as the "raconteur" (narrator/storyteller), addressing the camera directly as he guides the viewer through a series of romantic encounters and offers occasional aid to various characters as they scurry from one love affair to the next as they rush to complete the amorous circle referenced in the title.
While undeniably sumptuous and romantic in a decadent post-war French way, LA RONDE fails because it never allows any of its individual vignettes room to achieve any kind of emotional resonance- each scene feels more amusing than enlightening, and the characters are reduced to little more than well-dressed puppets (Danielle Darrieux is the main exception, crafting a complex portrait of an unrepentant adulterer is just several minutes time). The cyclical structure, which allows the film to glide by so smoothly, ultimately hinders any kind of emotional attachment.
But the reason to watch the film is to witness one of cinema's premiere stylists indulge in exceedingly elegant mise-en-scéne- each individual frame of LA RONDE is a feast of visual detail, enhanced by unexpected camera angles and movement. Perhaps no other screen artist has ever been able to match Ophüls's ability to create worlds that are so exquisitely artificial, and the camera revels in it.
For the perfect melding of Ophüls's visual style with a romantic story, check out LETTERS FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1948). Next to it, LA RONDE seems very minor indeed.