La Ronde: Criterion Collection
October 15, 2008
Vienna, 1900 and the author of La Ronde (1950) appears on a stage with a fake backdrop of the city, addressing the audience. He walks past the set and begins to establish the story and the two main characters: Leocadie (Signoret), the prostitute, and Franz (Reggiani), the soldier. As he does this, the author walks off the stage into the “real” city of Vienna, encounters Leocadie and her story begins. Director Max Ophuls accomplishes this all in one breathtaking and masterful take. And so begins La Ronde, an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s controversial play Reigen, and marked a return to Ophuls’ roots after a productive if not frustrating stint in Hollywood.
Leocadie meets Franz on the street and offers him a date for free. Their encounter is quick as he has to be back at his barracks before curfew begins. That Saturday, Franz goes out on a date with Marie (Simon), the maid, only to leave her later to dancing, much to her dismay. However, Marie meets the author who keeps turning up to segue into the next story, and he takes her on a little trip “through time.” We see Marie at work, catering to the whims of Alfred (Gelin), the young gentleman. They play a little game where he keeps thinking up excuses for her to come into the room as he is obviously crazy about her.
The predominant visual motif of La Ronde is that of a merry-go-round. One character goes from one story into another and so on. For example, Alfred leaves his house after being with Marie to be with Emma (Darrieux), the married woman. This structure, minus the author, was used with even more ambitious scope in Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1990), which goes to show how influential Ophuls’ film turned out to be. There is a wonderfully playful, romantic vibe that runs throughout as the director draws attention to the artifice of film.
There is an audio commentary by film scholar Susan White, author of The Cinema of Max Ophuls. She provides a background for the film and its literary source. She also delves into the biographical details of Max Ophuls and other key crew and cast members. Obviously, her focus is on the director and what led him to make this film. White does a nice job analyzing Ophuls’ style and his predominant themes.
“Circles of Desire: Alan Williams’ on La Ronde” features the film scholar and Ophuls expert talking about the history of the film. He also talks about how it was not well-received by critics of the day but was a big commercial success. Williams discusses some of the themes in the film and the recurring motifs that were in other Ophuls’ films.
“Marcel Ophuls on Max Ophuls” features the filmmaker’s son as he talks about his father and his thoughts about La Ronde. He tells some wonderful anecdotes about his father.
There is an interview with actor “Daniel Gelin.” He worked with Ophuls on two occasions and talks about his experiences on La Ronde. Gelin was a relatively unknown actor at the time and almost didn’t get the role because Ophuls wanted well-known stars.
Finally, there is “Schnitzler Correspondence” – excerpts of letters between Laurence Olivier and Schnitzler’s son that shed some light on the controversial nature of the original play which featured what was considered explicit sexual content for its time.