La Ronde, Le Plaisir and Earrings of Madame de…

Movies Reviews Max Ophüls
La Ronde, Le Plaisir and Earrings of Madame de…

La Ronde
Director: Max Ophüls
Writer: Louis Ducreux
Cinematographer: Christian Matras
Starring: Anton Walbrook, Simone Simon, Simone Signoret
Studio/Run time: Films Sacha Gordine, 97 mins.

Le Plaisir
Director: Max Ophüls
Writer: Jacques Natanson
Cinematographer: Christian Matras
Starring: Danielle Darrieux, Jean Gabin, Simone Simon
Studio/Run time: CCFC, 97 mins.

Earrings of Madame de…

Director: Max Ophüls
Writers: Marcel Achard, Max Ophuls, Annette Wademant
Cinematographer: Christian Matras
Starring: Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, Vittorio De Sica
Studio/Run time: Franco London Films, 105 mins.

In almost any scene of any of the films made by director Max Ophüls, be it in Berlin (before the ascent of the Nazi party), Paris, Hollywood, and then back in Paris, lie the director’s primary concerns: Men and women, lust, love, theatrical artifice and the illusion of desire. Though a favorite of Stanley Kubrick and perhaps the only peer to Orson Welles with regards to innovative camera shots, Ophüls’s oeuvre somehow fell by the wayside. In introductions by Todd Haynes and P.T. Anderson to these sterling DVD editions, both gush about the director’s art.

In an age of movies crafted in the editing room, what Ophüls camera work was astonishing. He conveys in long, complex shots (via trolleys and cranes) the true nature of the human gaze. In La Ronde, Le Plaisir (1952), and Earrings of Madame de… (1953), he moves about his actors and meticulously exacted sets with a gentle but determined grace. A long continuous shot of La Ronde shows our narrator as he moves from a stage into fin de seicle Vienna and then to a bridge. Thus begins a merry-go-round (literally) that entangles all of its characters in nine interlocking affairs of the heart and loins. Such precise clockwork also informs the three Maupassant stories of Le Plaisir. With the intimacy of butterfly kisses, Ophüls’ camera glides across a crowded dancehall, through a bordello’s windows, and—at film’s end—plunges us through a rooftop.

The most emotionally resonant of the set, Earrings of Madame de… details a tragic chain reaction when a wife sells off her earrings. Tracking such jewelry, the camera also dances with its paramours in a stunningly choreographed ballroom sequence. The lovers, poignantly portrayed by Darrieux and De Sica (himself an esteemed director), hint at their burgeoning though illicit love—as befits Ophüls—through the lightest yet most profound of glances.

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