Tuesday, May 18, 2010

#503: Lola Montes

(Max Ophuls, 1955)

Here is another masterpiece from Ophuls, this one entirely misunderstood in its day and only now restored to its original glory (btw, the more I think about Le Plaisir, the more I like it). Lola Montes is Ophuls's full-color epic, a story told through shifting locales, times, and tones, a melancholy anti-biography about the nature of fame and the oppression of social expectations. It's also indescribably entertaining for a cinephile, a continuous progression of sets, camera movements, and narrative twists and turns that never lets up and constantly amazes.

"They don't make movies like they used to" was invented for this film, and I struggle to think of a movie in the last decade that tries so hard to throw you into the narrative stream. The best comparison I can think of is the wholly underrated Barry Lyndon, Kubrick's most ignored masterpiece. Like the later film, Lola Montes features a lead actress that lacks the seemingly essential character traits that would explain her title role's life trajectory. But in both movies this seems to be the very point each director is making. Neither film is about its subject, but instead about society, its limitations and its appeal, and the effortless way in which fate intervenes. Both films also do miraculous things with the camera (Kubrick's film was shot entirely without artificial light), as is typical with Ohpuls.

In fact, examining Lola Montes from a purely cinematic perspective reveals the movie to be a true epic. Cameras rise up to the ceiling and cascade towards the floor with equal grace. Ropes swing in front of the camera, filters cover and uncover acts, the director swoops in and out of rooms so effortlessly that you forget for a moment that you are watching a movie on a set and you are instead truly omniscient. The fact that I had never seen an Ophuls film before last year is a true tragedy, one that should be corrected in every movie lover's life as soon as possible. He is truly one of the great filmmakers of all time.

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