Oh what a glorious confection this film is! La Ronde is Ophuls at his most slyly comedic and sarcastic, and it’s one of his greatest cinematic successes. Following his somewhat unpopular foray into Hollywood filmmaking (though he made some absolute gems during that period like Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), Caught (1949), and The Reckless Moment (1949)), he returned to
Ophuls’s film is a revolving carousel, literally, of love connections. We first meet a soldier who has sex with a prostitute. This soldier is also in a relationship with a young woman, and this woman is having an affair with a teacher, and this teacher is having an affair with a married woman, whose husband is cheating on her etc. etc. and round we go all the way back to the beginning of the circle when someone else sleeps with the same prostitute who started off the lovemaking. This circular nature to the story is amplified by the recurring image of a carousel, but also to the fact that it’s emblematic of the turning of the globe and to the notion that it’s love that makes the world go round.
As the godlike figure hovering over the proceedings, Anton Walbrook plays a ringmaster of sorts, overseeing the love trysts and guiding us, the audience, from one couple to the next in this story. His presence also amplifies a concerted effort to display the presence of the director, standing in for Ophuls. Not only do we see a camera crane and a boom mike, but there is one hilarious instance where the story cuts to Walbrook holding some 35 mm film and a scissors. These little flourishes add a self-aware tone to the trifles on display. Ophuls knows he’s showing us some rather tawdry sex, and lots of it, and wants us to know he’s in on it. To this end, the film is remarkably light and maintains a beautifully witty and graceful tone, far lighter than the films to come from him, especially The Earrings of Madame de… that is stern in comparison. Ophuls is well known for his camera work and dolly shots. But this film, to these eyes, is not nearly as ornate and camera-centric as his later films, particularly The Earrings of Madame de…. (1953) and Lola Montes (1955). Here the camera movements are a bit more subtle, allowing the acting to come even further to the foreground.
And what an acting ensemble here, almost a who’s who of French stars, especially the actresses who really shine. Of particular note are Simone Signoret, Simone Simon, and the ravishing Danielle Darrieux as the bored housewife cheating on her husband. My my my……Ophuls’ camera surely loves Darrieux’s face. Observe the scene where she is lying in bed with her lover and her face is framed on top and bottom by gauzy curtains. Simply a stunning moment. Darrieux would go on to star in Ophuls’ next two films and it’s easy to see why he stayed with her. Remarkably, Darrieux at the age of 94 is still involved in fairly regular roles in film and TV. She has an 8 decade run as an actress and is one of
’s great acting treasures. La Ronde is a remarkable entertainment. Sly, sexy, and full of intelligence, it’s a great film from a great filmmaker. France