Lola Montes

Lola Montes


Reviewed by: Nicola Osborne

This melodrama about celebrity mistress, Lola Montes and the many men in her life is director Max Ophuls' most controversial, if not his greatest work. A hugely expensive project, and Ophuls' only work in colour and CinemaScope, it was famously taken from the director and substantially re-edited by its producers from 140 minutes to 92 minutes, inspiring impassioned debate and even punch-ups among French audiences.

The story is told through an elaborate circus show, with Peter Ustinov as our ringmaster. Now past her prime and separated from her most impressive conquest, a king no less, she is forced to relive her life each night for an audience of circus-goers. As she watches the reconstructions of her past they trigger her own memories.

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Visibly ill and pretty much destroyed, Lola desperately holds on to what is left of her dignity and remains almost completely silent except when answering the invasive questions Ustinov's ringmaster chooses to let the audience ask her.

The film is shot in brash Technicolor with clever use of the CinemaScope format. The movement of the actors, scenery and cameras, the circus portions are impressively different and modern, lending them a powerfully overwhelming and oppressive feel. However the film loses out in the style over content battle, being far more about looks than plot despite the potentially fiery story, though it is a fitting swan song for such a visual director.

Martine Carol makes a perfect Lola, complimented by a series of men that all do too good a job of showing how easily they can be reduced to idiots when seduced by love or lust.

The longest relationship and most significant portion of her life and career as mistress to the stars is with her Bavarian monarch, played endearingly by Anton Walbrook as a sweet but hopeless grandfather creature. Peter Ustinov, brings an altogether more serious tone to the film, as the ringmaster - a complex and sympathetic character.

In an era where celebrity indiscretions can make a nobody an instant star, Lola Montes as a character is perhaps a little dated in her comparatively kind treatment of her lovers, however the very public interest in her private life is all too familiar. That Lola does not triumph over her past is hardly surprising given the time and culture in which the film was made.

Ophuls resists the temptation to make Lola purely a figure of evil. While the viewers are left to make up their own mind about Lola, she is ultimately left to decide whether she will give in and be destroyed by her tormenters at the circus, or whether she will escape through the only route open to her.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Colourful and genuinely revolutionary film, which shows off the considerable imagination and technical prowess of the director. Newly restored version is being show at NYFF 2008.
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Director: Max Ophuls

Writer: Annette Wademant, Max Ophuls, Jacques Natanson, Franz Geiger, Claude Heymann, Peter Ustinov, based on the novel La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montes by Cecil Saint-Laurent

Starring: Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook, Henri Guisol, Lise Delamare, Paulette Dubost, Oskar Werner, Jean Galland, Will Quadflieg

Year: 1955

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France/Germany

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