Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

French classics - 1

2 by Max Ophuls; 2 by Roger Vadim ...

LA RONDE, 1950. Anton Walbrook is the enigmatic, omnipotent master of ceremonies (also a head waiter) guiding us through a series of amorous encounters in the Vienna of 1900. Cue Ophuls' circular, serpentine camera movements through those lush sets ... One fleeting encounter leads to the next, partners change and the dance goes on, turning like the waltz and the carousel until the final vignette brings the story full circle. Featuring some of the great names of French cinema, Max Ophuls' wonderful adaptation of Schnitzler's play won Oscar and BAFTA nominations, and seen now is a timeless classic of French cinema. Max Ophuls of course is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most revered directors in the history of cinema; his trademark array of lavish, fluid camera movements have influenced many film-makers.  Using the image of the carousel, the narrator takes us through a series of love/lust stories which by 1950 standards are at times very explicit. An interesting notion is that it is about the spread of veneral disease from partner to partner, affecting all of society, from streetwalkers and soldiers up to the gentry, but in this Ophuls vision it is pleasure not pain which is passed on.

LA RONDE starts with the wonderfully world-weary Anton Walbrook and his carousel as street-walker Signoret offers a freebie to soldier in a hurry Serge Regianni who then dallies with pert Simone Simon who then is the maid leading on young Daniel Gelin who then romances married woman Danielle Darrieux, whose husband Ferdnand Gravey covets Odette Joyeux who falls for Jean-Louis Barrault, who then dallies with sophisticated actress Isa Miranda, who knows all the ways of love, particuarly when count Gerard Philipe calls .... he then meets the prostitute (Signoret) we met at the start. As in the teasing episode between young son of the house Gelin and parlour maid Simone Simon there is no sex on view, but the teasing anticipation and suggestion of it. 
MADAME DE ..., 1953.  In the Paris of the late 19th century, Louise, wife of a general, sells the earrings her husband gave her as a wedding gift: she needs money to cover her debts. The general secretly buys the earrings again and gives them to his mistress, Lola, leaving to go to Constantinople where an Italian diplomat, Baron Donati, buys them. Back to Paris, Donati meets Louise and presents her with the earrings, which she had claimed she lost. How can she keep them and fool her husband who of course knows she had sold them
.... It is a slight tale but Ophuls invests it with a world of emotion as the foolish wife learns to her cost. Charles Boyer as the husband, and Vittorio De Sica as the Baron are perfect in their roles as is Darrieux as the flightly Madame De  ... The earrings go back and forth until the husband declines to buy them a fourth time. We then progress to a duel ... The gliding camera-work pays loving attention to the period sets while our three leads act out their roles in this sublime film.

Ophuls (1902-1957) made the 1948 classic LETTER TO AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, and that classic pair in America, CAUGHT and THE RECKLESS MOMENT, both in 1949 with James Mason. LA RONDE followed in 1950, MADAME DE... in 1953, and his 1955 LOLA MONTES is his last final masterpiece. LE PLAISIR from 1952 is another of his to seek out. 

LA RONDE, 1964. Roger Vadim created a LA RONDE for the 1960s with his colour version, featuring a round-up of European players of the time, including Maurice Ronet, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean Sorel, Catherine Spaak, Anna Karina and  Marie Dubois, plus Mrs Vadim, Jane Fonda, and scripted by Jean Anouilh, and photographed by the great Henri Decae. Maurice Binder does a neat title sequence, the equal of his Bond titles. Updated to Art Nouveau 1914, just before World War One, it is light and undemanding and the cast look good, if rather too Sixities. 
LES LIAISIONS DANGEREUSES. Vadim's 1959, introduced by himself, looks terrific with those gleaming black and white images, with Jeanne Moreau and Gerard Philipe, plus Jean-Louis Trintignant and the latest Vadim girl Annette Stroyberg (rather a blank actually). Add in that score by Thelonius Monk.
Juliette Merteuil and Valmont are a sophisticated couple, always looking for fun and excitement. Both have sexual affairs with others and share their experiences with one another. But there is one rule: never fall in love. But this time Valmont falls madly in love with a girl he meets at a ski resort, Marianne.

Moreau is sensational here as the evil woman with designs on others and wanting her revenge (which of course backfires on her) for a perceived slight. This was considered sensational time, from the De Laclos novel, updated to the 1950s with that smart Parisian set and was heady stuff for the arthouse crowd in 1959 with those decadent parties, and all that jazz .... there is that last great line about Juliette: after her face being burnt, that she is now wearing her soul on her face!

Gerard Philipe died that year, more on him at label, as Moreau was coming into her great era, as was Trintignant. It is as fascinating as the later Glenn Close-John Malkovich version by Stephen Frears in 1987.  

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