La Ronde

Written by Michael Clawson


“Oh you naughty champagne. The things you made me do.” Whew! The thirst levels in this movie are off the charts. Sometimes literally, as when at least two different characters are so riled up with desire that they seek out a cold glass of water. I like the structuring device, that of an omniscient and artful narrator who orchestrates the sexual fates of a wide variety of people across different social strata: a prostitute, a soldier, a poet, an affluent husband and wife, both of whom are unfaithful, to name just a few. The central image is of a carousel, which the narrator operates as he guides a splendid cast through a series of short-lived sexual encounters. It’s a secondary motif, however – the waltz – that’s more representative of the film’s actual structure, with one half of the amorous pair in each vignette carrying over into the next, as if we were following ball room dancers as they change partners. Naturally, the scenes with French acting greats Simone Signoret, Simone Simon, and Danielle Darrieux have a unique appeal, but the sumptuous soft light and variation in what Ophüls does with the camera makes almost every scene rather glorious. Magnificently fluid tracking shots are what first stand out, as in the second sequence, where the camera glides behind foliage as it follows a couple looking for a park bench to get cozy on, but then we also get canted angles and striking uses of foreground and background, as in the very next sequence, where they amplify the erotic tension between a young man and his family’s chambermaid who can barely keep their hands off each other. The carousel might break down at one point, cleverly symbolizing one gentleman’s failure to perform, but the filmmaking is anything but clunky.

La Ronde Trailer

La Ronde is currently available to stream on the Criterion Channel.

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