La Ronde [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Bluebell Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th May 2019).
The Film

Oscar (Best Writing, Screenplay): Jacques Natanson and Max Ophüls (nominated) and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White: Jean d'Eaubonne (nominated)- Academy Awards 1952
BAFTA Film Award (Best Film from any Source): La Ronde (winner) - BAFTA Awards, 1952
International Award (Best Screenplay): Jacques Natanson and Max Ophüls (winner), Best Production Design: Jean d'Eaubonne (winner) and Golden Lion: Max Ophüls (nominated) - Venice Film Festival, 1950

Master of Ceremonies (Gaslight's Anton Walbrook) guides the viewer through a series of vignettes in Vienna 1900. Young soldier Franz (Army of Shadows' Serge Reggiani) gets a freebie from prostitute Léocadie (Les Diaboliques' Simone Signoret) by the river. He meets up with chambermaid Marie (Cat People's Simone Simon) at a dance hall and necks with her on a park bench. Marie takes the virginity of studious Alfred (The Man Who Knew Too Much's Daniel Gélin) while his parents are away. Newly confident Alfred seduces married woman Emma (8 Women's Danielle Darrieux) whose husband Charles (How to Steal a Million's Fernand Gravey) has very strong views on the moral character of women with experience other than husbands which also extends to his own mistresses like young Anna (Youth in Revolt's Odette Joyeux) when he thinks he is introducing her to new luxuries she has previously indulged in with other men. Anna is charmed by poet Robert (Children of Paradise's Jean-Louis Barrault) who fancies her as his muse, although only temporarily, as he is easily enchanted by actress Charlotte (The Night Porter's Isa Miranda) who sets her sights on higher propositions with a young Count (Dangerous Liaisons 1960's Gérard Philipe) whose own drunken night on the town inevitably ends with him hungover in bed with Léocadie.

Although more recently reassessed as the source novel author of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, novelist/playwright Arthur Schnitzler's stage play "Reigen" has been one of his long celebrated works, adapted several times for the stage and for film: from the 1920 German The Merry Go-Round and the more permissive Roger Vadim 1964 adaptation to the softcore eighties flicks New York Nights and Love Circles as well as the nineties indie Chain of Desire in which an STD was the link between partners. The play and its adaptations have been a sometimes unacknowledged influence on a variety of stories in different genres, including the various pretentious "we're all connected" ensemble pieces, and even perhaps as a device for hardcore pornographic films that move from encounter to encounter while attempting some sort of plot link (although it does not seem as though the genre has produced an actual pornographic adaptation of the source). One of the first sound adaptations of the still sexually-frank for the times, production code violating source was La Ronde by Max Ophüls (Letter from an Unknown Woman). Although more recently reassessed as the source novel author of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, novelist/playwright Arthur Schnitzler's stage play "Reigen" has been one of his long celebrated works, adapted several times for the stage and for film: from the 1920 German The Merry Go-Round and the more permissive Roger Vadim 1964 adaptation to the softcore eighties flicks New York Nights and Love Circles as well as the nineties indie Chain of Desire in which an STD was the link between partners. The play and its adaptations have been a sometimes unacknowledged influence on a variety of stories in different genres, including the various pretentious "we're all connected" ensemble pieces, and even perhaps as a device for hardcore pornographic films that move from encounter to encounter while attempting some sort of plot link (although it does not seem as though the genre has produced an actual pornographic adaptation of the source). One of the first sound adaptations of source was La Ronde by Max Ophüls (Letter from an Unknown Woman) which was deemed immoral by New York film censors despite its Academy Award nominations and not screened there until 1954. The play was still sexually frank for the time, and the film perhaps more so not only with its emphasis on extramarital encounters – the married couple are the only ones who do not make love – the fickle nature of what the characters call love as they woo their partners before flitting away to other ones (and in some cases standing up their previous partners), bourgeois hypocrisy regarding the sexual histories of men versus women, as well as a couple exchanges that could be regarded as fetishistic such as soldier Franz and his brigadier (The Milky Way's Jean Clarieux) both impeded in their carnal progress with women by their sabers or the Count, himself a soldier, who commands that the actress (who is fondling his saber) "authorize" him to call on her again later that evening, and encounters that ends with the familiar "it happens to all men at times" line (uttered by both sexes). The content of the dialogue, however, is ultimately subservient to the structure, and ultimately less interesting than Ophüls' execution of the piece. As the added Master of Ceremonies, Walbrook not only addresses the camera, he both guides the fate of the characters by showing up in various guises – even distracting Alfred's professor (Marius' Robert Vattier) lest his intrusion discourage Alfred and Marie – but also titles the vignettes, hastens the transitions between encounters – passing two months between Marie's discharge from her previous employer for going out to the dance hall and into the household of Alfred's parents with a mere walk through the fog, and is even shown clipping celluloid with scissors between two vignettes – while also offering commentary on the proceedings. Ophüls' visual style exploits the "ronde" motif for all it is worth as the movement of characters around sets and arcing camera pans reveal the circular nature of angular-looking sets while characters are sometimes framed from above through chandeliers or reflected in oval mirrors, and Walbrook spends much of the film singing his narration while cranking a merry-go-round. Canted camera angles disrupt more conventional coverage in such a way as to convey both an erotic charge and how desire can change the balance of power between two people of different social status while Signoret's prostitute does not receive a close-up until the final introspective scene before the coda in which "the circuit is closed" on what feels more like a scenario for filmmakers to fall back upon between better works.

Video

Released theatrically in the United States by Commercial Pictures uncut and with cuts in the U.K. by General Cinema Theatres (the film was re-released in the U.K. in 1982 without cuts), La Ronde turned up later on television in a ~111 minute version that was disowned by Ophüls in favor of the more widely-distributed 92 minute version. Nelson Entertainment released the film on VHS in the United States (followed by a Criterion laserdisc in 1995) while BFI put it out in the U.K. in 1990. Second Sight's British DVD and Criterion's American one shared a commentary track and two featurettes – the British disc added a short interview with Ophüls' son – all of which were dropped for Screenbound's 2016 Blu-ray. While that release was barebones, this Blu-ray from Bluebell Films – who sublicensed some Screenbound titles for UK release – is another step down. The same HD master is used but the new Blu-ray is encoded in 1080p24 MPEG-2, looking brighter and finer grained than the Criterion but surely MPEG-4 would have been better especially for a BD25.

Audio

While the Screenbound edition had an LPCM 2.0 mono track, Bluebell has a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The track itself has no glaring fidelity issues but uncompressed LPCM audio does not require any of the licensing fees of DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD and there was surely room for the track on the Blu-ray. The optional subtitles also have their issues with one or two errors as well as lines that run past the edges of the pillarboxed 1.33:1 frame into the matte with only a single word or two on the second line that just looks messy and awkward to read.

Extras

The sole extra is a photo gallery (0:53) which is one more than the Screenbound edition but compares poorly to the earlier DVD releases of the title.

Overall

While Bluebell Films was impressive as a niche DVD label putting out some of the latter day Jacques Rivette films, their Blu-ray debut with La Ronde is more than a bit underwhelming.

 


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