Thursday, August 27, 2015
Somewhere in the US, 19th century. The circus master presents the main circus attraction: Lola Montes, the famous Irish dancer and courtesan who had a sheer endless list of lovers in Europe, and thus the people from the audience ask any question about her private life for 0.25$. Lola remembers her life parallel with the circus act: as a young girl, she refused to accept an arranged marriage from her mother, and married lieutenant James, but he turned out to be an aggressive alcoholic, and thus she ran away from him. She started performing as a dancer, and toured numerous cities: Warsaw, Dubrovnik, Madrid, Vienna... Along the way, she had numerous lovers, from Franz Liszt up to conductor Claudio Pirotto. Finally, she became intimate with King Ludowig I in Bavaria, and thought she finally found her peace. Unfortunately. the 1848 revolutions broke out, and Lola had to flee. Back in the circus, Lola has one last assignment: each man from the circus audience can kiss and hug her for 1$, and there are hundreds of them waiting.
Max Ophuls' first film in color, and also his last one in his career, "Lola Montes" seems to parallel the director's own life by showing a once famous artist, the title heroine, who failed to achieve a permanent status, and is now reduced and humiliated by surviving as a circus attraction, trying to attract the wide audience with sensationalism and glamour. The movie itself seems strangely full of sensationalism and glamour, with opulent set-designs and extensive costumes, in order to attract the audience, even though Ophuls also shows a clever allegory about life and its disappointments, especially through the perspective of fading glory and transience, which is interwoven in the story. As an ambitious project, "Lola Montes" succeeds, but is also strangely dated at some occasions: the stiff cinemascope seems lax and static, and the story is filmed almost exclusively in long shots - with very sparse close-ups - which makes the characters distant, instead of emotional, whereas the fast pace of the movie is odd in itself, since almost all of Lola's lovers barely get more then 3 minutes of running time (the only exception being the last one, King Ludowig I).
However, even though he is reduced to a mere extra, Franz Liszt has a touching farewell: he wants to sneak out of the cabin at dawn, without waking up Lola, but just as he is about to close the door, she says to him: "You don't even want to say goodbye?" Liszt, ashamed, thus returns back inside, and sits next to Lola in bed, and they share a proper, loving last moment, embracing and comforting each other by telling they will meet again, anyway, somewhere, even though they both now they never will and this is their last minute together. Set as a series of flashbacks inside a circus act, the movie is strangely episodic, but so was Lola's life, since she travelled across Europe, trying to become famous only to finally find a husband to settle down. As such, she is - probably deliberately - an ambiguous character, a woman who ended up prostituting and exploiting her life in the extreme (obvious in the final scene), but a one who only longed for true love and a man with whom she can be at peace, even though only bad things were ultimately granted to her. One character says a pivotal line to the heroine: "We both know the audience is not there to see you dance. The audience is there to meet you when you leave. You are a beautiful woman." Strange how Lola's beauty brought her to so many places when she was young, only to ultimately lead her nowhere, just as Ophuls' talent led him to acclaim, only for the audience to forget him.