(VHS) (First Viewing, 3rd Ophüls film)
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.