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LOLA MONTES

France / West Germany, 1955 (MIFF 1961, Programme 19)

Director: Max Ophuls

Lote Montes was the last film directed by Max Ophuls befors his death in 1957; the film as Ophuls originally made it was very different from the abridged English language version shown here. To make the film, a special Franco-German-Swiss company was formed, and in its total cost it was rumoured to be the most expensive European production yet made. The film deals with the colourful life of Lola Montes, the famous 19th century beauty and courtesan. Ophuls' intention was not to present Lola's life in sequence, but to use the background of a New Orleans circus - where in her later years she eked out a living as an exhibit - as a framework for flashbacks, varying in mood and emphasis. After its initial Paris opening, the producers decided that this approach was too unorthodox; the material was therefore reshaped into a chronological story with the circus scenes providing a finale.

Some of the circus material is finely atmospheric and individual scenes characteristically display Ophuls' refinement, elegance and sense of the absurd. There are some charming landscapes and interiors, the latter with the inevitable emphasis on draperies, hangings, costumes. Once again we are aware of the faint decadence apparent in Ophuls' later films: the elaborate, over-decorated sets, the ever-present, self-conscious camera movements; but we also witness the director's genuinely creative approach to cinemascope. While some of the transitions in the narrative are excessively abrupt, resulting in a lack of coherence, the film is worth viewing as the last work of cinema's supreme stylist. And style rules everything: it continually dazzles and never bores.

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