Throughout human history, many strands of activity have intertwined.
Let us take but two and ponder them for a moment: romance and war.
What is romance nowadays? Is it a glossy paperback with dog-eared corners? Is there a mane of red hair? A swelling bosom?
Or is romance chivalry?
After you. Je vous en prie.
Romance has not survived.
Who are we kidding?
For romance to have survived, love would also have had to survive.
I see…here and there. Is that not love?
Ah…romantic love. A different thing.
I assure you, dear reader, if you have made it this far into my ridiculous litany of theses that you shall be rewarded for your efforts.
What we have here is the final film by the great Max Ophüls.
I have heard this picture described as a flawed masterpiece.
Pay no mind to such estimations.
This is the product of a genius spilling his guts onto the celluloid canvas.
Film. Celluloid. When did it start? When did it end?
Once upon a time, film was flammable.
And our film is certainly flammable.
Martine Carol, who plays Lola Montès, is one of a kind.
This particular performance…I must admit, this is one of my favorite films…such a powerful experience.
But Carol is not alone on the grand stage. No… This production would not be the breathtaking spectacle it is without the incomparable Peter Ustinov.
Ustinov is the ringmaster. As in circus.
The important point to note is that Ophüls made a psychological metaphor of the circus…and created a film which is probably the longest extended metaphor ever captured by motion picture cameras.
But it is not a typical circus.
It is a nightmare circus. A cusp-of-dream circus.
Every shot is effused with symbolism.
The little people…haunting Oompa Loompas…little firemen from a Fahrenheit 451 yet to be filmed. Bradbury had published in 1953. But it would necessitate Truffaut in 1966 to make the thing so eerie. It is that specific vision…the firemen on their futuristic trucks…which Lola Montès prefigures. The little people. From Freaks by Tod Browning through Lola Montès to the cinematography of Nicolas Roeg. And the tension of Bernard Herrmann. From Psycho to Fahrenheit 451. And even Oskar Werner (who plays a sizable role in Lola Montès). From here to Truffaut.
But the nightmares are only horrible because her life was so vivid…Lola Montès. First with Franz Liszt. And then with mentions of Chopin and Wagner. Even Mozart…
This was romance. A different time.
What love would sustain a warrior in battle?
Simple love. Honest love.
And yet, what love drives a man to the edge?
Romantic love. The femme fatale. Why is it that we never hear of the homme fatal?
All kidding aside, I want to make a very serious point about Lola Montès. It is my belief that this film represents an admirably feminist perspective the intensity of which I have seen nowhere else than in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile).
For 1955, Lola Montès was a harrowing epic. Because Max Ophüls was a true auteur, it has lost none of its wonder…even in our loveless, edgy world.
Amazing writing again Pauly, love your unique style. And you have brought yet another movie to my attention, cheers!
Thanks mate! –Paul
I’m always impressed by how you make your own through-line in these reviews. I was just hearing about a film, but now I’m considering how love and war sometimes oppose, sometimes reinforce each other.
I must say (maybe again), this doesn’t happen for me elsewhere.
It’s always a juggling act…seeing how much I can get away with pushing the “film review” form. Thank you for noticing! –Paul