Part Of The Picture: Carousel of Carnality

Posted on September 17, 2010



SEP 18, 2010 – TOWARDS THE FILM’S END, THE NARRATOR announces with a cigarette stuck between his lips, “The merry-go-round has stopped.” Taking off his “work clothes” and pulling on a trench coat from a clothes hanger in the middle of the street, he sings in the tune of the waltz first heard over the opening credits, “That’s the end now of our story. All with me, you saw it well. It’s the story of everybody and that’s all there was to tell.” And in accordance with the circular nature of the film’s title, which will also be reflected in the roundelay of relationships on display, this narrator appears at the beginning of the film in this trench coat. He removes it, hangs it on the clothes hanger in the middle of the street from which he’ll retrieve it at the end, and he proceeds to wear his “work clothes.”

What is his work which has him change clothes thus, to the accompaniment of the waltz? He is, as mentioned earlier, the narrator of this episodic story of daisy-chained relationships. The film begins with a prostitute who has a quickie with a solider, and this soldier goes on to seduce a girl at a ball, and this girl proceeds to be seduced by the young man she works for, and this young man begins an affair with a married woman, and this married woman hints at this liaison to her husband, and this husband goes on to dine with his young mistress, and this young mistress goes on to sleep with a poet who floors her with his impassioned rhetoric, and this poet goes on to profess his affections for an actress, and this actress goes on to seduce a count, and this count ends up in bed with the same prostitute who kicked off the story.

To narrate this tale, the narrator doffs his trench coat and dons various disguises to introduce each episode – and the film begins with one such introduction, to both the film as a whole and to the segment with the prostitute in particular. Ascending the steps to his “stage,” he begins to pace about. “…and me. Who am I in this story? ‘La ronde?’ The author? The announcer? A passer-by? I am you. In fact, anyone among you. I am the personification of your desire if your desire is to know everything. People always know only one side of reality. And why? Because they see only one side of things. But I see every aspect because I see from every side that allows me to be everywhere at the same time. Everywhere!” Having established his godlike omniscience, he surveys his surroundings and continues, “But where are we? On a stage? In a studio? It is hard to say. In a street?”

Then he realises. “Oh! We are in Vienna. In 1900. Let us change costume.” The trench coat comes off. The first set of work clothes come on – a formal jacket with a cape and a top hat, apparel that you might expect to find on a stage magician, a creator of illusions. The narrator continues, “We are in the past. I adore the past. It is much more restful than the present and so much more reliable than the future. The sun’s out and it’s spring! The fragrance in the air tells you that this is going to be a story about love.” He asks a question and he answers it. “What do we need for love to begin its merry-go-round? A waltz.” He points. A waltz begins to play over a carousel that’s revealed in front of him. He gestures and the carousel begins to turn. The clothes do appear to have bestowed him with magical powers – but then again, he already was God in this scenario. And he declares his story open. “The waltz turns. The carousel turns. So the merry-go-round of love can turn too.”

La Ronde (1950, French). Directed by Max Ophüls. Starring Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Danielle Darrieux.

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign