No Future

Wanda's Early Morning Cafe 

What better way to spend an evening than by watching a 1939 French melodrama by a German director, dubbed into Italian and given a simultaneous translation into English by our own private benshi film narrator David Wingrove?

SANS LENDEMAIN (Without A Future), directed by Max Ophüls, is perhaps a minor work by this great director, but it beats the pants off DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO, made the next year. That curiously flat follow-up to Anatole Litvak’s highly successful MAYERLING (Litvak, Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer — Hollywood contracts all round!) never quite takes off, has few Ophülsian flourishes, and ends with a weird newsreel montage intended to stir the people of France to intense resistance to the oncoming Nazi threat. Since France’s active participation as a combatant in WWII ended about 30 seconds later, the need for Ophüls’ propaganda exercise was swiftly obviated, and he fled the country.

But this slightly earlier film has lots and lots going for it. Edwige Fieullére plays the lead, as she would in DMAS, and she’s a classic Ophüls suffering woman sacrificing all for love. In a great film like LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN or THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE… this would be completely convincing and compelling, both psychologically and sociologically. This being merely a good film, the thrust of the story doesn’t carry as much wait, and it’s possible to object to the tragedy: “If only…” or “Couldn’t she just…” But it still has an impact.

Ophüls attempts plenty of broad stylistic effects in this one, and there are several of his long tracking shots as well, plus elaborate crane movements following characters up staircases, an Ophüls staple. One weird moment sees a snowfall of what appears to be feathers, pouring slowly past a cabin window. I was reminded of the amazing moment in MADAME DE… when a torn up letter thrown from a carriage dissolves into a snowfall.

Avalanche

Fieullére plays Evelyn, a fallen woman working as a stripper and dance hall hostess at La Sirene, a sleazy yet oddly Paris beautiful night spot. The director and his crew — designer Eugène Lourié (a favourite of Renoir’s) and cinematographers Eugen Schufftan (the man with his own PROCESS) and Paul Portier, assisted by Henri Alekan(!) go all Von Sternberg on us, bisecting and trisecting the screen with lace and veils and curtains. The Divine Max also fills the screen with tits, much as he did in DIVINE, the ’30s French answer to SHOWGIRLS.

Stage Door

Showgirls

Meeting the great love of her life (and probable father of her child) after ten years, Edwige concocts an elaborate and expensive charade to convince him that she’s still the virtuous woman he once loved — not to deceive him into marriage, but simply to experience a few days of the love she once shared with him. Since she cannot afford an expensive apartment to carry off the deception, she borrows money from a gangster and pimp. The stage, as they say, is set…

Street with No Name

(Murdo, Hound of Zaroff, runs past La Sirene clutching a human hand in his jaws.)

Quite a few of the director’s effects don’t come off in this film, and there are sometimes so many ravishing compositions to choose from that the editor apparently gets confused, and confuses us in turn. But Ophüls frequently impresses, and finally attains the sublime, right at the end of this film, with three shots of desolating ABSENCE. The places seen minutes before are shown once again, minus the characters.

It’s like a thirty-second sketch for the end of Antonioni’s L’ECLISSE.

gone...

..gone...

...like a turkey in the corn.

“I adore the past. So much more restful than the present. So much more dependable than the future.” ~ Anton Walbrook, LA RONDE.

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12 Responses to “No Future”

  1. “What better way to spend an evening than by watching a 1939 French melodrama by…?”

    I can think of several better ways. Sex, for example :P

  2. dcairns Says:

    Well, the two need not be incompatible.

  3. Sex can disappoint. Ophuls, never.

    “I think I know the reason why
    producers tend to make him cry.
    For shots that do not call for tracks,
    Are agony to poor dear Max
    who, separated from his dolly,
    is wrapped in deepest melancholy.
    Once, when they took away his crane,
    I thought he’d never smile again.”
    –James Mason

  4. dcairns Says:

    Ah, I never heard the whole of that poem before! Many tx.

    The commentary on the UK disc of The Reckless Moment points out the exact incident when max was denied use of a big crane, for what would have been an amzingly effective shot. Economics and studio politics prevented it.

  5. My late and much-missed friend Frances Williams played Joan Bennett’s housekeeper in The Reckless Moment Ophuls adored her and built up her part as much as he could.

    Frances was very active in getting African-American acors into the union. She travelled to the Soviet Union with Langston Hughes and met Eisenstein. In her last years she appeared on the short-lived but much-loved show Frank’s Place.
    She had quite a life.

  6. dcairns Says:

    Ah yes, Todd Haynes talks about her on the ReckMom disc. She sounds incredibly impressive — as she is in the film. TH points out how bold it was to have her take over driving the car from Joan Bannett at one point.

  7. That was the specific thing Ophuls added. He felt, quite logically, that Bennett’s character was too upset to drive.

  8. david melville wingrove Says:

    Having watched this film twice (and translated it once) I’m not sure I’d blame Ophuls for the occasional bout of choppy editing. This is, after all, the dubbed Italian version -so it’s quite possible the Italian distributors hacked bits out of it, if only to fit it onto the lower end of a double bill.

    Believe it or not, they were known to do this even with classic Italian films. My Italian VHS of The Iron Crown (Alessandro Blasetti’s classic Fascist-era pacifist fantasy epic) runs less than 90 minutes and has been cut well beyond the point of total incoherence. A bargain-basement Spanish DVD I picked up a few years later runs a full two hours and more or less makes sense.

    So perhaps we should give poor old Max the benefit of the doubt?

  9. dcairns Says:

    It’s certainly possible that some of the confusion is from re-cutting. Sometimes it seemed that the editor was simply trying to use every angle provided (I couldn’t find the editor’s credit on the IMDb so I can’t vouch for his/her form), but maybe those scenes were originally longer.
    That last scene is terrifically cut though.

  10. The Ophuls film from this period that I like a lot is not Lendemain or Sarajevo, but Werther.

  11. Never seen Werther. I believe Ophuls himself was disappointed with it, and felt he should have been more faithful — but that’s literally all I know about it, having never read Goethe. I’d be thrilled to see it if I ever get the chance.

    Yoshiwara is pretty damn interesting!

  12. [...] poor coolie is beckoned to his doom. Cinematography by Eugen Schufftan and Henri [...]

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