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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Friday, September 21, 2012
7:00 p.m. La ronde
Max Ophuls (France, 1950)

Set in the Vienna of the waltz, this exquisite and witty film describes love’s ceaseless roundabout starting with a prostitute (Simone Signoret) who loves a soldier (Serge Reggiani) who leaves her for a chambermaid (Simone Simon) who . . . etc., etc., until the story comes back to the prostitute. In La ronde, David Thomson wrote, “the normal narrow view of movie stories, always going forward towards destiny and resolution, is abandoned in favor of the more mocking designs of hazard, obliqueness, and digression, a dance in which the dancers do not hear the beat but in which they revert helplessly to where they began, older and no wiser. La ronde did help pioneer episode films with all-star casts (but) for Ophuls, this commercial novelty was less important than a dramatic form which is as pretty, as enclosing, and yet as unending as a watch. . . . The film goes round and round. The convenience of ‘ending’ is its one lie.”

• Written by Ophuls, Jacques Natanson, from the play Der Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler. Photographed by Christian Matras. With Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon. (97 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, PFA Collection, permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)