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The 19th-century courtesan recalls Franz Liszt and the king of Bavaria. Director Max Ophuls' last film.
Max Ophüls explores the scandalous life of dancer and courtesan Lola Montes with a bittersweet empathy that turns melodrama into a tragic melancholy masterpiece. Using the theatrical re-creation of Lola's life in a big-top pageant as a framing device, Ophüls contrasts the outrageous sensationalism of her reputation with poignant, poetic flashbacks that explore her many affairs, most notably with Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg) and King Ludwig of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook). Lola's greatest tragedy is that she loved well, if not too wisely. If Martine Carol's central performance is lacking passion, as many critics have argued, her quiet, at times seemingly passive demeanor makes her a veritable prisoner of her society and her reputation. Swept along by Ophüls's sweeping camerawork, which glides through the film in a balance of intimacy and contemplative remove as if on the wings of angels, her life becomes like a cinematic ballet with Ophüls the choreographer and conductor. Peter Ustinov costars as the jaded circus ringmaster, who nightly narrates her exploits to a throng of scandal-hungry spectators, while she performs with a face hardened in indifference, resigned to her empty role as a figure of spectacle in a garish gilded cage. Shot in delicate color and impeccably composed widescreen compositions throughout by Ophüls's regular cinematographer Christian Matras, Lola Montes is his most beautiful and restrained film, a fitting swan song for one of the cinema's most sensitive directors. --Sean Axmaker
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I hit the play button last night with a certain trepidation, mentally preparing myself to view a badly worn relic. Fortunately, the "low technical quality" rumors are much overblown. Yes, this is a 45 year old color film that did not see loving restoration in its DVD transfer. Nonetheless, color, resolution and sound rate a B or B+, but you would have to be a churlish obsessive to complain about it. The miracle is that you can get this film at all in eminently watchable condition.
I suppose Oedipal elder abuse was a good publicity strategy for establishing street cred for the new wave, but Lola Montes provides convincing evidence that the French movie landscape of the early 50's has been unfairly denigrated as a musty dead end. Lola Montes is a high energy, exuberantly theatrical, cinematic tour de force on the same exalted level as Rules of the Game or Children of Paradise that testifies that the old wave went out in a blaze of glory, not sclerosis.
This gorgeous movie made in the fifties has little shock and awe factor now but back then we would have viewed it from behind our (figurative) fans. Oh my wasn't she naughty, wink wink--an attitude younger viewers probably won't understand. Today the film is definitely worth a look as a stylized piece of art. Martine Carrol, who was many times more beautiful than Lola was, did all she could do with the script, seductive and calculating early on, and later, when she became a circus act, playing the part as if she were a Ziegfeld girl, silent behind her glorious figure and feathers . Lola is presented as an object of shame, a circus act to titillate the worst and derive pity from the best, while Peter Ustinov's ringmaster acts as a mirror reflecting the hypocrisy of society.
I was delighted to see a very young Oskar Werner -- one of the great actors of all time, known for his starring roles in Ship of Fools and the wonderful Jules and Jim. Here he plays a pivotal role as the schoolboy seducee who rallies to save his beloved though she had cast him aside in favor of the king.
Yes, the disc has its problems, but not so many that the beauty of the film is lost. It was nominated for an academy award for art direction, well deserved. The .film's exaggerated lushness means that I won't watch it often, but yes, again and perhaps then again.
To get a more objective look at the life of Lola Montez, I highly recommend Bruce Seymour's excellent biography, "Lola Montez" available at Amazon:
* New, restored high-definition digital transfer (with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
* Audio commentary featuring Max Ophuls scholar Susan White
* "Max Ophuls ou le plaisir de tourner," a 1965 episode of the French television program Cinéastes de notre temps, featuring interviews with many of Ophuls's collaborators
* Max by Marcel, a new documentary by Marcel Ophuls about his father and the making of Lola Montès
* Silent footage of actress Martine Carol demonstrating the various glamorous hairstyles in Lola Montès
* Theatrical rerelease trailer from Rialto Pictures
* New and improved English subtitle translation
* PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Gary Giddins
For those who love this film, I do believe this is what we've been waiting for!
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