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Monday, 27 July 2009

Lola Montes

This is the trailer for Lola Montes, the last film made by Max Ophuls - a true genius of the cinema whose work becomes better and more moving with each decade that passes.

It was a troubled film, castigated and butchered on release - at least 40 minutes were cut. It isn't perfect, but it is a dream of a how perfect a film might be.

For this reason, it is a film best watched after the inestimable Le Plaisir, the fabulous La Ronde, the spellbinding Madame de, the exceptional Caught and, perhaps the best introduction to Ophuls, Letter from an Unknown Woman.

This doesn't mean that Lola Montes needs a primer to be enjoyed, rather that its beauty and its ambition is the greater for knowing the path that led to its making.

See these films because, unlike Lola Montez, they are wholly achieved pieces of cinema, and then see how Lola Montez is an attempt to transcend them. Don't see them if romance and emotion embarrass you, or if restraint means only common sense and sound judgement and not imprisonment, an impediment to motion to which all Ophuls characters are doomed or denied.

It's a movie aching with intent to summarise the maker's philosophy. It is epic in scale. It is in colour - the only Ophuls film that is - and it is an old man's dream of how life loops back on itself, a meditation of love, loss and fame, on freedom and imprisonment. Ophuls's use of the camera - those prowling tracking shots - is as eloquent as cinema gets.

In truth, and it hurts the film far more than any tales of botched editing, Martine Carroll is inadequate in the part. Any actress with whom Ophuls had worked previously would have succeeeded better, but, intellectually at least, her presence can be justified and made bearable if one thinks of the present day Lolas - the Jordans and the Paris Hiltons - oddly vacant and unexpressive women and yet about whom we seem unable to cease parading, circling, studying and interpreting - albiet less astsutely than Ophuls does Lola. Our current media prowl around and probe such women more lasciviously, insistently and with far greater cruelty, and yet, like Lola, they seem impelled to offer themselves up.

Anyway, praise the Lord, Lola Montez is available on DVD at last. One of my wishes granted. Next up, please - Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc - now that would be a great double bill with Lola

feet, room, poet

Continuing to Live

Continuing to live -- that is, repeat
A habit formed to get necessaries --
Is nearly always losing, or going without.
It varies.

This loss of interest, hair, and enterprise --
Ah, if the game were poker, yes,
You might discard them, draw a full house!
But it's chess.

And once you have walked the length of your mind, what
You command is clear as a lading-list.
Anything else must not, for you, be thought
To exist.

And what's the profit? Only that, in time,
We half-identify the blind impress
All our behavings bear, may trace it home.
But to confess,

On that green evening when our death begins,
Just what it was, is hardly satisfying,
Since it applied only to one man once,
And that one dying.

Philip Larkin