La ronde (1950)

This is another one of those films that I can’t help but feel is in the wrong language—had it been in German I might’ve found it easier to believe I was watching something set in Vienna rather than Paris—but, as the DVD interview with Alan Williams helpfully observes, France was literally the only place in the world that Arthur Schnitzler’s notorious play could’ve been filmed (Schnitzler’s heirs didn’t control the French performing rights like they did in the rest of the world). Williams also makes an interesting point about Schnitzler having perhaps viewed his own play as being unperformable, both because of the subject (People Fucking) and the structure (ten scenes arranged in somewhat circular pattern), interesting because the film struck me as curiously cinematic and theatrical at the same time… the opening scene is perhaps the strongest example, a massive single take (Williams, again, theorises that Ophüls essentially just found editing too hard, hence his propensity for these longer takes) with the camera roving about as the scene moves from a brazenly obvious set to what feels far more like a real street—all in one five-minute take, mind you—but which we know must be as actually artificial as the set we saw at the beginning of the shot. Ophüls arguably trumps this when he breaks into a scene to show his “meneur du jeu” (himself a fairly grand bit of artifice) snipping out a bit of film while muttering “censored” before returning to the scene. It’s all an exercise in style rather than substance (the booklet essay felicitously describes the film’s approach to its many actors as giving them “sustained cameos”), and I have to admit to finding it somewhat empty. As with Le plaisir, I found the DVD extras gave me more appreciation of what Ophüls was actually doing, but I still found something kind of hollow about the whole thing.

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