The Divine Max.

Lola Montes

Something of a mystery: I’ve been using Edinburgh College of Art library for literally DECADES, and never come across the little B.F.I. book on Max Ophuls I picked up today — yet the book is damn old: the price label says 95p.

It’s a real treasure trove, especially for the erudite and unbelievably poignant interview conducted by Truffaut and Rivette shortly after LOLA MONTES had opened to weak box office. Ophuls is full of plans for the future, discussing the films he’d like to make and the ones he feared he might have to make as a compromise, to prove himself bankable — ‘At this point also, I’m telling producers: “I advise you to make my next film, but not the one after that!” Of course, Ophuls would soon be dead, LOLA MONTES his last work.

Apart from the poignancy of films he would never live to make (and tantalisingly, Ophuls speaks of Balzac’s La Duchesse de Langeais,now filmed by Rivette: “I loved the way he had the people subjected to the pressure of political events,”) there is the poignancy of this description of a film he began but never finished, L’ECOLE DES FEMMES, with actor and theatre manager Louis Jouvet —

‘It was an experiment for me: I had to follow Jouvet and his actors with my camera during a performance, with an audience present and without trying to make a cinematic adaptation of the play. I wanted to show the actor when he leaves the stage and follow him into the wings while the dialogue is still audible. I wanted to profit from the play of light in front of and behind the footlights, but without trying to show the techniques of theatre. I never moved away from the characters, even when they stopped acting, because that didn’t mean they had stopped living. I had scarcely filmed anything except the opening shot: a camera traverses the theatre, over the spectators’ heads, and Jouvet, seated on this camera-platform, puts on makeup, transforms himself, unnoticed by the public in the auditorium, as the lights gradually dim. And as the camera crosses the curtain, it vanishes, and Arnolphe (Jouvet’s character) remains on stage, alone. This first shot was also the last. Three or four days later, I left for America.’

Ophuls with the almight Danielle Darrieux.

Jouvet had smuggled Ophuls into neutral Switzerland after France fell to the Nazis: Ophuls had been putting out anti-Nazi radio propaganda, full of satire and invective, and would have been arrested if he’d stayed in France. That contribution to art — saving Ophuls’ life — is more than enough to justify Jouvet having a street and a theatre named after him in Paris:

In fact, Jouvet also contributed massively to cinema through his elegant performances for Carnè (HOTEL DU NORD), Clouzot (QUAI DES ORFEVRES), Duvivier (LA FIN DU JOUR), Christian-Jacques (UN REVENANT), Maurice Tourneur, Pabst, Feyder, Allegret, Renoir…

Monsieur Jouvet, I raise a glass in your honour.

Who, me?

Vive La France!

(Not many jokes in this piece, I love these guys too much!)

3 Responses to “The Divine Max.”

  1. Ophuls wanted to star Garbo in La Duchesse de Langeais. Screen test were shot of the great star by James Wong Howe. But they couldn’t find any takers, so Garbo never made a comeback.

  2. Damn! Ophuls has THE BEST unmade projects of anybody! His Modigliani film would have been great too, I bet. I think I’ll do a semi-regular series on The Greatest Movies Never Made.

  3. […] blogged a little before about Ophuls and LOLA MONTES, but somehow never got around to quoting Peter Ustinov’s frothy, smart […]

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