Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cinema #30, Time #10

[Max Ophuls’s] elegant characters lack nothing and lose everything. There is no escape from the trap of time. Not even the deepest and sincerest love can deter the now from its rendezvous with the then, and no amount of self-sacrifice can prevent desire from becoming embalmed in memory. “Quelle heure est-il?” ask the characters in La Ronde, but it is always too late, and the moment has always passed.

This is the ultimate meaning of Ophulsian camera movement: time has no stop
. Montage tends to suspend time in the limbo of abstract images, but the moving camera records inexorably the passage of time, moment by moment. As we follow the Ophulsian characters, step by step, up and down stairs, up and down streets, and round and round the ballroom, we realize their imprisonment in time. We know that they can never escape, but we know also that they will never lose their pose and grace for the sake of futile desperation. They will dance beautifully, they will walk purposively, they will love deeply, and they will die gallantly, and they will never whine or whimper or even discard their vanity. It will all end in a circus with Lola Montès selling her presence to the multitudes, redeeming all men both as a woman and as an artistic creation, expressing one long receding shot, the cumulative explosion of the romantic ego for the past two centuries.

Andrew Sarris, entry on Max Ophuls, in The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968
last shot of Lola Montez (1955)