Friday, August 24, 2018
Based on the novel by Cecil Saint-Laurent, Lola Montes is the story of the life of the Irish dancer/courtesan who would embark on scandalous affairs with many men as she would later work for a circus where its ringmaster would tell her life story. Directed by Max Ophuls and screenplay by Ophuls and Annette Wademant with dialogue by Jeff Natanson, the film is the look of a woman’s journey as she tries to find herself in a decadent world as the titular character is played by Martine Carol. Also starring Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook, Will Quadflieg, Oskar Werner, Ivan Desny, and Henry Guisol. Lola Montes is a ravishing and elegant film from Max Ophuls.
Set during a circus performance in the mid-19th Century, the film is about the life of a courtesan who has become a circus performer that has her telling her many exploits with different men where she was once revered for her dancing and role in high society and then fall from grace due to scandal. The film is told in a reflective back-and-forth narrative where the main body of the story is set at a circus with the titular character thinking about her past exploits that added to not just her legend but also notoriety. The film’s screenplay by Max Ophuls and Annette Wademant takes this back-and-forth narrative that has Montes not just thinking about moments in her life but also having to display them in some kind of performance for the circus with the ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) is being a narrator of sorts for these exploits. Notably as it would involve the composer Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg), her mother’s boyfriend in Lt. Thomas James (Ivan Desny), the famed conductor Claudio Pirotto (Claude Pinoteau), and King Ludwig I (Anton Walbrook).
Ophuls’ direction is definitely lavish and stylized in the way he presents the story of this woman’s exploits. Shot on various locations in Paris, Nice, and Munich with several scenes shot on studio soundstages, the film definitely play into this world of fantasy that is presented in the circus scenes that is mixed in with this reality that is full of elegance but also decadence. Ophuls’ precise usage of compositions whether it’s in the wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups help play into the attention of detail over not just the set pieces of the circus and what goes on behind the scenes. It’s also in the world that Montes had lived in where much of her journey has her riding in this spacious carriage with a couple of longtime servants as each journey and lover would represent a chapter in her life.
Ophuls’ direction also has him playing with aspect ratios throughout the course of the film though much of it is shot on a Cinemascope aspect ratio to get much attention to detail on the locations and much of the setting that Montes would be in. Particularly as the settings would play into not just Montes’ development as a person but also the realization that her presence would often cause a lot of problems. Particularly in the final story that involves King Ludwig I as it would cause scandal as well as a revolt where Ophuls would put some historical context into the story as Montes being a reason for the March Revolution of 1848. The direction also have Ophuls mirror the scenes of what Montes has experienced in terms of what she is about to perform though it does play into not just her decline in stature but also emotional as she becomes trapped into what she has become in the end. Overall, Ophuls creates a majestic and riveting film about the wild life of a courtesan in the mid-19th Century.
Cinematographer Christian Matras does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its gorgeous usage of colors to help set the mood for a scene as well as the lighting in some of the film’s circus scenes including a few moments backstage. Editor Madeleine Gug does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few rhythmic cuts to play into the drama. Production designer Jean d’Eaubonne and set decorator Robert Christides do amazing work with the set design from the look of the state sets at the circus to the places that Montes goes to including the palace of King Ludwig I and the interior of her carriage.
Costume designer Georges Annenkov does brilliant work with the costumes from the look of the clothes that the men wore as well as the stylish and lavish dresses that Montes wore throughout the course of the film. The sound work of Hans Endrulat, Jean Neny, and Antoine Petitjean do fantastic work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the circus as well as some of the tense sound of rioting during the film’s third act when rioters throw rocks at the palace. The film’s music by Georges Auric is superb for its rich and soaring orchestral score that ranges from being playful in some parts including scenes at the circus to some somber moments as it relates to the drama.
The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Claude Pinoteau as the famed conductor Claudio Pirotto, Paulette Dubost as Montes’ maid Josephine, Henri Guisol as the carriage driver Maurice, Lise Delamare as Montes’ mother Mrs. Craigie, and Oskar Werner in a terrific small role as a young German soldier that Montes would meet on her way to Munich as he would later help her flee the city in the third act. Will Quadfieg is superb as the famed composer Franz Liszt who would be inspired by his affair with Montes to create music that would make him famous. Anton Walbrook is fantastic as King Ludwig I of Bavaria as the Bavarian king who is smitten by Montes in her beauty and work as a dancer unaware of what he’s doing to his own people.
Ivan Desney is brilliant as Lt. Thomas James as the lover of Montes’ mother who becomes concerned for Montes’ well-being only to marry her where it eventually becomes toxic. Peter Ustinov is excellent as the ringmaster who is the film’s narrator of sorts during the circus scenes as he tells Montes’ story while would also meet her in making an offer to join his circus. Finally, there’s Martine Carol in a radiant performance as the titular character where Carol brings this elegance and melancholia to the role as a woman who had been through so much adventure and was full of life during her time as she is a shell of her former self. It’s a performance that has Carol display charm and liveliness whenever she’s happy while being restrained in her sadness that includes that eerie moment in the film’s ending as it is an incredible performance from Carol.
Lola Montes is a phenomenal film from Max Ophuls that features a sensational performance from Martine Carol in the titular role. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, sprawling set design, complex storylines, and a luscious music score. It’s a film that is rich in its look but also this evocative story of a woman’s life that is full of wonder and sorrow as it’s told in style. In the end, Lola Montes is a spectacular film from Max Ophuls.
Max Ophuls Films: (The Bartered Bride) - (The Merry Heirs) - (Liebelei) - (A Love Story (1933 film)) - (Everybody’s Woman) - (The Tender Enemy) - (The Trouble with Money) - (Yoshiwara) - (The Novel of Werther) - (Sarajevo (1940 film)) - (The Exile) - (Letter from an Unknown Woman) - (Caught (1949 film)) - (The Reckless Moment) - La Ronde - Le Plaisir - The Earrings of Madame de... - (The Lovers of Montparnasse)
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