Archive for Sans Lendemain

Morpheus Descending

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2008 by dcairns

A Song is Born

Max Ophuls’ LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI is a sort of Italian answer to A STAR IS BORN. While, like SANS LENDEMAIN, it isn’t up there with the Divine Max’s post-war work, it does have its share of passion and poetry, and features plenty of memorably eccentric bits of technique.

Ophuls starts with a spiralling iris-out from a spinning gramophone record, before tilting up to a cyncial movie producer, who starts talking almost straight into the lens, almost like an Ozu character.

Cutting back to the gramophone once more but with the camera now spun 180 degrees, Ophuls now tilts up to an agent, also talking almost into the lens.

The next scene gives us a whirlwind tour of a film studio, with the camera rocketing around at speed as assistants try to locate a missing movie star. You can really feel the weight of the giant blimped sound camera as it swerves round corners, even spinning 360 degrees as a character circles a room before exiting from the door he came in by.

Then we’re tracking through walls in the manner mimicked by Kubrick (a big Ophuls fan) in THE KILLING and LOLITA, and then we get MY FAVOURITE BIT —

The Experiment

Morpheus Descending

Our heroine (the legendary Isa Miranda) has attempted suicide, and lies on the operating table awaiting some kind of potentially life-saving operation. Gloved hands turn a SPECIAL VALVE and an anaesthetic mask descends from the ceiling. Ophuls does what many directors would do in such a situation — he shows us the heroine’s POV as the smothering instrument descends towards her face. This is in line with those subjective camera shots we see in many hospital movies from the ’40s on — wheeling along on a gurney, looking at the ceiling, that kind of thing.

The Mask

Mask

But Ophuls does something else, something maybe only he and Sam Raimi would do — he cuts to the POV of the mask itself, descending towards the heroine’s face until she is pushed into a blurry smear.

Awake

The Woman in White

The Fog

And in the midst of that blur, the central flashback can begin…

(LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI is now available on DVD in Italy, and they’ve actually included English subtitles!)

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No Future

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2008 by dcairns

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.