Thursday, June 22, 2023

La Ronde (Circle of Love, 1964)

Roger Vadim’s La Ronde (AKA Circle of Love) was based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play Reigen, a play that provoked outraged reactions when it was published in early 20th century Germany. It was banned at one point. It was not performed until 1920 when it provoked further outrage. The play has been adapted to film several times, the best-known versions being Max Ophüls’ 1950 film and Vadim’s 1964 offering. The script for Vadim’s movie was written by Jean Anouilh.

Arthur Schnitzler also wrote the extremely interesting 1926 short novel Traumnovelle on which Stanley Kubrick’s final movie Eyes Wide Shut was based.

The structure of the play (and the movie) is a series of ten sexual encounters with each character figuring in two consecutive encounters with different people.

One of the things that really intrigues me is the extraordinary critical hostility to Roger Vadim. Critics who are prepared to gush over mediocre Hollywood directors seem to be enraged at the thought of a European director who failed to be serious-minded, pessimistic and obscure. Vadim’s output as a director was varied, interesting and always entertaining. Maybe he wasn’t overly deep, maybe he wasn’t an Ingmar Bergman, but he was inventive and fun. American critics might also be offended that Vadim treats sex lightheartedly.

Vadim assembled a fascinating cast that included Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean Sorel and Maurice Ronet but the big drawcard here is provided by three wonderful actresses - Catherine Spaak, Anna Karina and Jane Fonda. Fonda, who is fluent in the language, did not need to be dubbed for the original French version.

Vadim chose to set his movie in France in 1914, in the last days of La Belle Epoque. This gives it a slight melancholy tinge - this is a world about to be swept away by war.

The various sexual encounters cross class boundaries, and cross the boundaries between the respectable and the non-respectable.

There’s also adultery (which was probably what got the original play into so much hot water).

By 1964 these things were no longer so shocking, in Europe at least.

This is a chance to see Jane Fonda at her peak as an actress. She’s delightful as the adulteress wife Sophie. I like all the actresses in this movie. I’m a huge Catherine Spaak fan (if you haven’t seen her delightful 1968 movie The Libertine then do so immediately) and I loved her here. Anna Karina is charming and amusing. I like Marie Dubois a great deal as the likeable prostitute.

I mostly like the actors as well, especially Claude Giraud as the soldier Georges and the great Maurice Ronet as Sophie’s husband. And I’ve always rather liked Jean Sorel (who plays the cynical Count).

Mention should be made of Henri Decaë’s lush cinematography and Maurice Binder’s witty and playful opening titles. I also loved Jane Fonda’s outrageous bird hat.

Vadim appeared to have no great interest in politics and perhaps that’s one of the reasons critics don’t like this movie. The opportunity was there for some biting political satire (and there is some) but Vadim was not particularly interested. Personally I’m grateful to Vadim for keeping the politics to a minimum.

Even by 1964 standards this movie is rather tame. There’s a lot of sex going on but we don’t see it and there’s a bit of almost-nudity.

A lot of people seem to prefer the 1950 Max Ophüls version. I can’t comment directly on that because I haven’t yet seen the Ophüls film although I am intending to do so in the near future.

I’ve reviewed a number of Roger Vadim’s movies over the years. The Night Heaven Fell (1958) and Love on a Pillow (1962) are both quirky intriguing offbeat movies. Barbarella (1968) of course is simply wonderful and I even have a definite soft spot for his much-reviled Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971).

The Kino DVD of La Ronde offers a very nice 16:9 enhanced transfer. The only extra of note is a brief interview with Vadim and Jane Fonda.

La Ronde is lighthearted and amusing. Recommended.

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