Literally speaking, La ronde is a ride in an amusement park. Colloquially it can also apply to a dance, where the couple well… they spin around (you’re lucky you have me to enlighten you on these subtleties). Ophuls’ film is based on a play of the same name, that was about class and the spreading of syphilis through a series of rencontres sexuelles. Sounds like an absolute riot. Ophuls drops the disease, and most of the class issues in his interpretation of the work. Instead he opts to examine the intricacies, and the false-shallowness of relationships. In his world, even what may seem to be the most meaningless sexual encounter leaves a mark on those involved, and in a sense everyone else they touch…. not in a disease-y way though.
This change is not only slightly less icky and moralistic in tone, but allows for a far deeper exploration of relationships and general interconnectedness. Ophuls doesn’t condemn sex in any way, if anything he celebrates it in all it’s forms. In his world the only thing that’s spreading is love. The film plays out as a somewhat racier, somewhat frencher Lubitsch but without the treachery. Whereas the characters in films like The Marriage Circle or even To Be or Not to Be are suspicious lovers, in La Ronde any suspicion is fleeting and often times little more than an act or exihibition of nervousness. Every relationship has a moment of bliss, and a moment of doubt, in the end everyone is on even ground.
Ophuls doesn’t completely disregard the issues of class in his film, as our humble narrator is evidently a servant in every scene. He meets with every character, and yet they can never quite place him. Again though, Ophuls doesn’t go for the traditional route, and rather places the film as a self-aware conversation between maker and spectator. The narrator not only serves as guide through the events, but as the director and initiator. He stands in for Ophuls, or other directors, who are crafting these stories, or perhaps peeling away the layers of fog to allow us to see what has always been in front of us. This wonderful self-awareness hints at the fabrication of the situations, but in a way absolves the film of all it’s constructions. This is a story, an allegory. It’s as obvious as the title, but there lies the beauty. As complicated love can be, it can also be frighteningly simple and optimistic.
A beautiful film in every sense of the word, it’s an obvious preface for Madame de… I would, however, argue that no film sums up Ophuls style or ideology as simply or as well as this. La Ronde is a wonder, and quite frankly one of the sexiest films I’ve ever seen. A treat for all the senses.