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  Ronde, La Carousel Of Love
Year: 1950
Director: Max Ophüls
Stars: Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Daniel Gélin, Danielle Darrieux, Fernand Gravey, Odette Joyeux, Jean-Louis Barrault, Isa Miranda, Gérard Philipe
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Here is our narrator, our host, the raconteur (Anton Walbrook) who is here to tell us stories of love, and how it connects everyone in the world in a cycle. He takes us to Vienna in 1900, which he thinks is the ideal location for his tales, though he acknowledges that we are watching an artificial construct as he walks past the studio lights, cameras and microphones to change his coat for a cape more fitting for turn of the century Austria. Once he's ready, he sings us a little ditty and introduces us to his first subject, a prostitute (Simone Signoret) who likes to attract soldiers...

There's some debate over which was the perfect Max Ophüls movie, the one which summed up his deeply romantic style, though not one which always worked out for his characters which only made them all the more romantic. For those who didn't wish to get too heavy, La Ronde was that perfect movie with its grace, humour and even playfulness: more than once we get cutaways to Walbrook, who was never better himself, carrying out some item of lighthearted laughter. Essentially this took the promiscuous form of tracing a circle of love, as one woman has sex with one man, then he with another woman, then she with another man, and so on until we returned to the woman we started with.

Naturally for such a film there was no consideration of transmitting diseases, and this was very much pre-AIDS (though not pre-syphilis or gonorrhoea!), yet it wasn't so much the physical act which concerned the director but the emotional content, whether it strikes a chord in one character or is simply another notch on the bedpost for another. You can probably guess that the females adapt to this world of love better than the males, as although they can be hurt by the men who move on, they don't obsess over the nature of what they're feeling as much as them, a point which reaches its apex in the character of the poet (Jean-Louis Barrault) who intellectualises it all into near-meaninglessness.

So it was clear Ophüls was on the side of the ladies, as if the gentlemen were not able to cope with the power of love and in effect sabotage it for themselves. Not that some of the women don't fall for the wrong guy - a soldier who cannot reciprocate, a married man who's getting too old to justify his dalliances as anything other than lust - yet for all the warm humour there was a bittersweet quality that told us no matter how much you're caught up in your affair or desire, it isn't going to last, not half as long as it should depending on the strength of your feelings. The most overwhelming love here is the one which fades the fastest, and if a relationship does last it's through tolerance and acceptance rather than passion.

While there are interludes where the characters lounge around and analyse their situation, one which Ophüls would care to see as universal, there remained great beauty in the manner this was assembled. James Mason once observed, "A shot that does not call for tracks is agony for dear old Max" and true to form there isn't a scene which goes by which doesn't feature the camera gliding or swooping around the opulent sets, as if we were watching some dream or other. It was as much this method as the subject matter, adapted freely from Arthur Schnitzler's famous play, that conjured up the amorous mood, though such bits as Walbrook finding his carousel breaking down when one man finds he cannot rise to the occasion, or seeing him snipping out the sex scene from the celluloid due to censorship did prompt genuine chuckles. La Ronde was considered an immoral film in its day and was even banned in a few territories, something that seems incredible to modern eyes for such a gossamer confection; now it can be appreciated as a heartfelt but airy charmer. Music by Oscar Strauss.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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