(director/writer: Max Ophuls; screenwriters: from the play “Reigen” by Arthur Schnitzler/Louis Ducreux/Kurt Feltz/Jacques Natanson; cinematographer: Christian Matras; editor: Léonide Azar; music: Oscar Straus; cast: Anton Walbrook (Raconteur), Simone Signoret (Leocadie, the Prostitute), Serge Reggiani (Franz, the Soldier), Simone Simon (Marie, the Housemaid), Daniel Gélin (Alfred), Danielle Darrieux (Emma Breitkopf), Fernand Gravey (Charles Breitkopf, Emma’s Husband), Odette Joyeux (Anna, the Grisette), Jean-Louis Barrault (Robert Kuhlenkampf, the Poet), Isa Miranda (Charlotte, the Actress), Gérard Philipe (The Count); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sacha Gordine/Ralph Baum; Criterion Collection, The; 1950-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Never seems more than whimsical.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
One of acclaimed French director Max Ophuls’ (“Le Plaisir “/”Lola Montès”/”Letter from an Unknown Woman”) weaker films but still with enough stylish cinematic magic to get over all its languor and too much idle chatter. The black and white film is based on the play “Reigen” by Arthur Schnitzler and cowritten by Ophuls, Louis Ducreux, Kurt Feltz and Jacques Natanson.
For its plot, Ophuls films ten episodes of love that are related to the viewer by a very active, all-knowing and dapper narrator (Anton Walbrook)–who acts as a master of ceremony would in a circus introducing acts. The storyteller is depicted as the owner of a Vienna merry-go-round in 1900, who begins his story with Franz (Serge Reggiani), a soldier getting picked up by a prostitute named Leocadie (Simone Signoret), and offered a freebie. As the tales continue, one partner always connects to the next story. The next tale has Franz with the maid Marie (Simone Simon). The maid then meets Alfred (Daniel Gélin), who seduces a wealthy married woman (Danielle Darrieux), whose husband is involved with a young worker (Odette Joyeux). This woman takes up with a poet (Jean-Louis Barrault) in love with an actress ( Isa Miranda). Wouldn’t you know, the actress loves a count officer (Gérard Philipe). Love comes around full circle when the count calls on the prostitute from the first episode.
The purpose is to relate Schnitzler’s cynical take on sexual mores and the illusions of love. The project never seems more than whimsical. It dances to the tunes of an ongoing waltz and looks snappy as it’s photographed with the camera acting as a carousel and given a glossy romantic look as much of it was filmed through carved glass, linen, silks and mirrors.
The risqué episodic film was censored for four years after its release as “immoral” by the New York State censorship board. It was remade in 1964 by Roger Vadim.
REVIEWED ON 9/9/2008 GRADE: B-