La Ronde (1950). Directed by Max Ophuls. Starring Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret and Simone Simon.
Max Ophuls’s adaptation of the Arthur Schnitzler play is as light, frothy, diverting and ultimately as pointless as some culinary foam as he voyeuristically gazes at the revolving carousel of amorous encounters in 1900’s Vienna. Loosely interconnected vignettes of lovemaking are cloaked in a shroud of magical realism as Ophuls toys with form and style in a frivolously playful manner.
Technically, it is an utter marvel with glitzy, glittering production design and sweeping, involving camera moves whizzing around the beautifully constructed sets, completely immersing the viewer in the dizzyingly heightened action.
Anton Walbrook’s ringmaster acts as a guide to this journey through the sexual history of the great city from the love affairs of the lowly to the glittering halls of the Viennese elite and all points in between. He wanders Eros like around the city, bursting into song, cranking the carousel into action and acting like some kind of grandmaster of romantic chess, moving people into amatory situations, stepping back to let nature take its rather predictable course and voyeuristically watching the whole thing from the shadows.
However, Walbrook is easily the most engaging screen presence and the vignettes themselves are lacking in substance. Sure, there is some wit on display particularly in the segment where the philandering husband and wife discuss sexual propriety from the safe spaces of their twin beds but for the most part it is a curiously shallow spectacle which seems happy just to wittily critique the pointlessness of censorship while putting forth its very ordinary thesis – that men and women like having sex with each other.
It is all said in an engagingly flashy, sometimes amusing way but it is also a stunningly obvious conclusion to draw from the reality of human interaction.