(Partially translated by DeepL from my original Italian text).
Max Ophuls (a French Jew born in Germany as Max Oppenheimer) showed talents for directing plays and musicals at a very young age. From the end of World War I to the beginning of the 1930s he devoted himself to this activity with increasing success, staging works by Brecht, Zweig, Mozart and Verdi in various German-language cities, from Vienna to Berlin. In Berlin (in 1930) he also began his film activity, but for a couple of years he limited himself to directing Viennese-style operettas, chock-full of waltzes and languid love affairs, for example Die Verkaufte Braut/ The Bartered Bride (1932), based on Smetana's opera. But from this orientation also sprang Liebelei (1933), based on a play by Schnitzler, a nostalgic evocation of Habsburg Vienna.
A mundane and trivial plot is unfolded with careful delicacy and emotion, and is realized in the simple, lively, almost frivolous style that characterizes all Viennese-inspired intimist operettas that would flourish in Austria, spreading like wildfire throughout Europe.
An overwhelming sense of catastrophe, however, alludes to the miserable end of the Habsburg Empire and indirectly to the impending collapse of the Weimar Republic. The death of the two lovers acquires the flavor of a bitter reflection on the transience and fragility of beauty, on the pain and death that inevitably disfigure it.
The daughter of a humble violinist is seduced by a young officer who has just ended an affair with a baroness; but the baron, upon discovering the betrayal, challenges the young man to a duel and kills him; when the girl learns what has happened, and realizes that she has been tricked by the young man, she commits suicide by throwing herself out of a window.
Ophuls was unable to attend the premiere because the onset of anti-Semitic persecution had forced him into exile. In 1934 he was in Italy, in 1935 in Holland, and in 1936 he settled in France, but the humiliation of exile and constant wandering adversely affected his inspiration, which faded into ironic pessimism and cold disengagement.
La Tendre Ennemie/ The Tender Enemy (1936), for example, is a film that unifies a taste for the past, careful set design, and late expressionism (in order to save his own daughter from an imposed marriage and return her to the dashing aviator he loves, the ghosts of his father and of her lover intervene in the ceremony).
Le Roman de Werther/ The Novel of Werther (1938)
Sans Lendemain/ There's No Tomorrow (1939)
L'Ecole des Femmes (1940)
De Mayerling a Sarajevo (1940)
At the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the Foreign Legion and, after the end of the war, he moved to the USA to direct three decent revivals of the theme of Leibelei, beginning with The Exile (1947) and culminating with the psychological melodrama Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), based on Stefan Zweig's 1922 novella about morbid and devoted love. The "letter" of this film is a posthumous account of a long, silent love affair. The voiceover is that of the woman and comes from beyond the grave; she does not merely narrate, she comments.
Unfortunately the screenwriter, Howard Koch, changed the dissolute writer of Zweig's novella with a married pianist, and the Spanish flu with typhoid, details that make the story a bit implausible.
The ending is also all ruined by lack of information about the duel.
Ophuls' refined "fin de siècle" sentimentality finds a way to indulge with one of the most imaginative set designs of the era.
Vienna in 1900. Stefan lives in an apartment with his mute butler. The butler hands him a letter in which the writer says "by the time you read this letter i may be dead". A female voiceover reads the letter for us. That's the beginning of the flashback narrated by the woman.
Lisa is a teenager when Stefan moves into the building where she lives. She is
fascinated by the workers who carry upstairs his piano and his books.
She falls in love with the mysterious pianist. She takes dance lessons
and studies the lives of musicians, and secretly spies his private life, and even sneaks into his large apartment when he's away.
When her mother, a widow, announces that she is getting married to a wealthy
man, Lisa starts crying: it means moving out of the building.
On the day when they are leaving for the new town, Lisa runs away.
She takes the tram back to the building and runs up the stairs, determined to
speak to Stefan, but Stefan is not home.
She spends the night on the steps, waiting for him.
When he comes home, she is surprised to see a woman with him, and a woman wearing a bridal dress: he just got married. She hides and then leaves.
She takes the train and finally moves in with her stepdad.
Her parents introduce her to a handsome military officer, who soon falls in love with her and proposes, but she lies that she is already engaged to someone else even though her parents don't know. Her parents were already ready to celebrate the engagement and instead are bitterly disappointed.
Lisa returns to Vienna and finds a job as a a dress model.
She ignores all the men who like her and spends the nights outside Stefan's apartment waiting for a chance to meet him, even in the snow.
One night he finally speaks to her and, realizing she can easily be seduced,
takes her to a fancy restaurant and then to a dancehall where they dance until the orchestra goes home, and finally home, where they have sex.
The following day he has to leave for a two-week engagement in Italy and promises to see her again in two weeks... but instead he never contacts her again.
She gives birth to their son and refuses to disclose the name of the father.
She raises the child by herself because she doesn't want to ask him for anything.
She gets married to a man, Johann, who truly loves her and knows the truth about her son, whom she named Stefan.
She has a happy and safe marriage.
One night Lisa and Johann go to the opera, and she recognizes an aged Stefan, who is now a ruined man. She hears people gossiping that he wasted his talent.
She can't resist and leaves her husband feigning a headache.
Stefan doesn't recognize her but knows that he met her before.
Johann joins her and they go home together, with him warning her not to destroy
their marriage, aware that she is still obsessed with the pianist.
Johann even threatens to kill Stefan in order to save their marriage.
But she cannot resist. When her son leaves for a two-week trip,
she looks for Stefan. She doesn't know that her husband is following her.
He sees her enter Stefan's apartment. Lisa is in love like always but Stefan
doesn't recognize her. She is heartbroken and walks away.
Her voiceover informs us that her son has just died of typhus, contracted on
the train. The letter ends and the nurses of the hospital have added a
post-scriptum: that the woman who wrote it has just died.
Stefan finally remembers who she is.
His loyal mute servant comes to remind him that he has an important appointment.
On the way out he sees a ghost of her open the door for him.
Two seconds are waiting for him in a carriage: his appointment is a duel with
Lisa's husband Johann.
Caught (1949) is a simple melodrama, and the ending is a little ridiculous,
but visually frenzied (to rival Welles' films) and densely choreographed.
Leonora shares an apartment with her friend Maxine
and is struggling to pay for the "school of charm" that she is attending to become a lady.
They both work as models in a department store,
One day a gentleman invites her to a yacht party.
She doesn't want to go but Maxine convinces her that it's an opportunity to meet important people.
She cannot leave work in time and she gets stuck at the pier waiting for a boat
to take her to the yacht thrown by a rich bachelor, Smith.
By sheer luck she meets Smith, a handsome man. He takes her for a ride and asks her a lot of questions. He takes her to his mansion to seduce herbut she asks to be taken home.
Smith is struck enough by her to discuss her with his psychiatrist.
Smith has regular "heart attack" that the psychiatrist diagnoses as caused by neurosis. Smith senses that the psychiatrist thinks he will never get married because he's afraid of all the women who want to marry him only for his money.
To prove the psychiatrist wrong, he decides on the spot to get married and to marry precisely Leonora.
The newspapers talk about the "Cinderella" who went from a life of poverty to a life of riches.
When Maxine comes to visit Leonora, she finds a melancholy wife.
She is being neglected by Smith and he is rude with her.
When he comes home one evening with friends, he humiliates her in front of everybody.
He accuses her of having married him only for the money.
Leonora moves out, determined to find herself a job, no matter how humble.
Left alone, Smith suffers one of his "heart attacks".
She begs for a job as the receptionist in a doctor's office and the
pediatrician Larry is moved by her determination.
Larry shares the office with an obstetrician in a poor lower-class neighborhood.
When he criticizes her for her sloppy work, she quits.
An apologetic Smith comes to visit her in her humble apartment and asks her
to come back to him.
She accepts and they sleep together in the mansion.
The following morning she realizes that Smith simply needed her for an event,
so she returns to the receptionist job.
She redoubles her efforts to help the doctors and works overtime.
She and Larry stay up all night to take care of a child who got
To thank her, and thinking she's very poor, Larry buys her a new coat.
The following day she asks the obstetrician to examine her: she is pregnant.
Larry invites her on a date and they dance together.
He proposes to her and she is embarrassed to decline.
The following day she disappears. He tells the obstetrician that he proposed
to her and he advises him to forget her, without telling him that she's
Larry is determined to find Leonora and, from something she said,
figures out that she works for Smith. He visits Smith at the mansion and he coldly informs him that Leonora is his wife.
She sees him walking out and meets Larry in the garden.
She tells him that she is pregnant. Larry seems to have guessed in a second
the whole psychology of their marriage, with Smith oppressing Leonora,
warns her that Smith will ruin her and the baby and asks her to go live with him instead. Smith overhears them and interrupts them. Larry nonetheless stands by what he told her. After Larry leaves, Smith offers Leonora a deal: she can get a divorce if she surrenders the child forever.
She has no choice but to remain with him.
One night Smith gets angry from reading insinuations in a newspaper.
She refuses to talk to him and he gets into a furious rage while she is asleep.
She finds him wheezing on the floor: he is having one of his attacks.
He begs her to get him his medication but she simply walks away, clearly
intending to let him die.
She is remorseful that she wanted Smith to die.
Just then she enters labor.
Larry takes her to the hospital trying to console her.
She gives birth but the baby is stillborn.
(It is not clear if Larry caused the abortion by giving her some pills).
She is now free to marry Larry (an odd happy ending!)
The Reckless Moment (1949) is an odd love story in which a criminal
falls in love with the (married) woman he is supposed to blackmail and ends up sacrificing his own life for her. He probably saw in her the wife that he never had and dreamed of, and in her life the life that he wanted for himself and never had. His act is heroic, but heroic is also the woman's
effort to keep the truth from her family, to not disturb the quiet of the household.
Just before Christmas a woman leaves her country home and drives to a hotel in Los Angeles.
The woman, Lucia, meets Ted, a middle-aged man, and asks him to
stop hanging out with her 17-year-old daughter Bea.
She has investigated him and decided that he's not appropriate company for Bea.
He asks her for money. She refuses and makes a phone call.
When the woman gets home, she finds that Bea, an art school student, has already been brainwashed
by Ted and refuses to stop seeing him.
Her father is out of town on a business trip. He calls to tell them that he
won't be back for Christmas.
When everybody is asleep, Bea sneaks out of the house and meets Ted in the
boathouse. He tells her that he actually needs money and she runs away crying
after hitting him with an anchor. She tells her mother what happened.
The following morning her mother finds Ted dead: he fell and killed himself.
She doesn't tell anyone. She loads the body into her boat and dumps it into
the lake. She doesn't tell Bea that Ted is dead, but tells her to keep it a
secret that she ever knew Ted.
At the post office the mother hears that the body has been found and the police are investigating the murder.
Back home she finds a man,
representing loan shark Nagel,
who blackmails her with a bunch of love letters written by Bea to Ted.
Just then Bea reads the news in the newspaper and panics.
The mother is willing to pay for the letters but she doesn't have the cash until the husband comes back.
Martin comes back and helps Bea's younger brother David, who is working on an old car.
She has to hide the situation from her household (that also includes her father and two servants), and doesn't want to trouble her husband, but also needs to find the money immediately.
She cannot make phone calls from the house about the money so Martin drives her to town. She doesn't find the money and asks Martin to be patient but he
has no control over Nagel. Later he calls and offers to reduce the amount by
giving up his own share, but she doesn't believe that Nagel exists and, instead of being grateful, she's angry at him.
We see Martin talking to Nagel, so we know that Nagel exists and Martin is telling the truth. Martin honestly cares for Lucia.
She tries to obtain a loan but it would involve dragging her husband into it.
Lucia pawns her jewelry, but that's not enough.
She nonetheless meets Martin and gets the good news: the police has arrested a suspect.
Lucia is not happy: she knows that the suspect is innocent and can't tolerate
the thought of an innocent being imprisoned. She has to explain to Martin
how she knows that the suspect is innocent, and so she pretends that she
killed Ted. He tells her to keep the secret and protect her family.
Martin looks for Nagel in a pub but Nagel has left.
Nagel is at Lucia's house, demanding that she pays immediately:
the suspect has been released.
Martin arrives and kills Nagel.
Lucia is tired of secrets and wants to call the police and tell the truth,
but Martin drives away with the dead body.
Martin loses control of the car, the car crashes and Martin remains trapped inside.
Lucia has followed him and finds him, but there is nothing she can do for him.
Martin gives her the letters and tells her to go home and let him deal with the police.
A little later Bea comes back home and tells her mother that she saw
the police on the site of a car accident, and
the cops told her that the dying man confessed killing Ted.
Lucia's husband calls and she only tells him that they miss him.
Returning to Paris in 1950 (where he would remain until his death, which occurred in 1957), Ophuls was finally able to make his last films in full freedom, all four of which were imbued with those four characteristics: ironic pessimism, nostalgia for the past, sentimentalism, and baroque set design.
Sentimentalism, in particular, stems from the contrast between love and death.
The scenography feels (theatrical) expressionist and (pictorial) impressionist influences.Ophuls' pessimism, linked to the metaphor of the past, is given by the inevitability of death.
These four elements combine into a single motif/tone, a decadent romanticism that explores the corruption of beauty and the ephemeral pleasure to be had from it.
La Ronde (1950),
an ironic semi-musical adaptation of a 1920 Arthur Schnitzler play, is an erotic overview of fin-de-siecle Vienna with a master of ceremonies who is at once the author, one of the actors (who plays several characters), and a set worker (who at one point pulls out scissors to cut an erotic scene for censorship). The story is too light to be interesting. The master of ceremonies is the real element of interest with his alienating interventions, and also the comic element. And, as usual, Ophuls excels in visual composition.
The film opens with an actor wondering what character he is (he is the author) and walking us
through a stage into a real street and wearing a costume. He tells us that
we are in Vienna in the year 1900. He walks in the street and starts singing
next to a merry-go-round. A woman appears (Simone Signoret)
who thinks that the song has been mocking her. The actor introduces the first act of the play. The actress is a prostitute and offers herself for free to a soldier. He is in a hurry but she really wants him so she drags him under a bridge,
in a place known as "suicide corner".
The soldier, Franz, has to run to avoid punishment at the barracks.
The prostitute only has time to shout her name, Leocadie.
On the following day leave the soldier meets Marie, a sweet chambermaid, at a dance.
She is in love with him but he is selfish and prefers to keep dancing when
she has to return to her employer.
The nameless actor
of the first scene, who acts throughout the film as
the master of ceremonies,
shows up to console her and predicts
that she will be fired for leaving the house. He takes her for a little stroll
through time and soon it's too months later and she's working for a new family.
She is incredulous but happy. The actor/author introduces the next act.
The sweet chambermaid is being courted by the shy son of her master, Alfred,
who finally one day finds the courage to make his move.
Alfred is expecting his old French tutor. When the old professor arrives,
master of ceremonies,
now disguised as a neighbor, tells him that Alfred is not home so that the two lovers are not disturbed.
Then the master of ceremonies intones a song on the merry-go-round about
Alfred who has an affair with a married woman, Emma, in another apartment.
We see that the merry-go-round has a mechanical problem and so this episode
lasts a little longer. The master of ceremonies has to take his coat off and fix it. And then Emma leaves the apartment.
We see her in bed with her husband, an older businessman, Charles, who is busy
keeping track of his money.
His rambling about marriage bores Emma, but he too has an affair, with a
19-year-old shopgirl (who doesn't work, the master of ceremonies tells us).
He takes her to a fancy restaurant where the master of ceremonies plays the
waiter and gets her drunk. They make love (it's a private room).
On the way out of the restaurant he tells the waiter (the master of
ceremonies) that he never saw the girl before.
The girl guesses that he is married and doesn't feel ashamed.
He drives her home in his automobile (a rarity in 1900) and offers her
an apartment where they can meet more often.
She however is in love with a poet and she forgets her next appointment
with the businessman, who waits in vain at the restaurant.
But next she's the one to be stood up when the poet visits an actress after
her show, an old lover of his, and forgets about the shopgirl who is waiting
for him in the street.
The actress, in turn, receives the visit of an admirer, a count,
and quickly encourages him to make love to her.
The master of ceremonies uses scissors to cut out the love scene from the film (from the tape) telling us it's censored.
Later the count gets drunk and has dinner alone with a dog sitting at his table like a guest. And then hangs with merry ladies. He wakes up in the room of
the prostitute of the beginning, Leocadie.
The count walks out with his dog.
The master of ceremony changes to ordinary clothes and declares that the
story has reached full circle.
Le Plaisir/ The Pleasure (1952) contains three episodes adapted from Maupassant stories.
In the first story, a doctor rescues a dancer who has fallen ill and discovers he is an old man in youthful makeup; in the third, an old man and an invalid reenact on the beach the thwarted love that drove her to attempt suicide; in the second, Maison Tellier, the most stylized in landscape photography, a company of prostitutes spends a Sunday in the countryside because the brothel mistress has to godmother her brother's (Jean Gabin) daughter.
Madame de/ The Earrings of Madame de (1953),
adapted from Louise Leveque de Vilmorin's 1951 novel,
is a love story set during the "belle epoque". The film bridges with
elegance the romantic comedy and the most pathetic melodrama.
The comedy part is worth a lot more than the melodramatic part.
Louise, a countess who has been living an expensive life of leisure, inspects her many jewels and furs.
She is trying to decide which ones to sacrifice.
She dresses simply and walks to a church where she prays to a saint.
Then she walks into the shop of the jeweler Remy and confesses that she has
accumulated debts and wants to sell him the diamond earrings that her husband
gave her for their wedding, ironically earrings bought from the same jeweler.
Later at the opera she tells her husband Andre', a rich general, that she lost them.
Andre', upset, searches the carriage and the house, but of course in vain.
The director of the opera house offers to call the police to investigate.
The following day the newspaper has an article about earrings stolen at the opera.
The jeweller, Remy, decides to inform Andre' that his wife is lying, and the
general takes it surprisingly well. In fact, he buys the
earrings a second time from the jeweller. He then rushes to the train station
where his lover Lola is leaving for Istanbul and gives her the earrings as a farewell present.
At home Louise continues the farce pretending to be still distraught about
losing the earrings.
They even discuss who could possibly have stolen them but she accepts blame
for losing them and feels bad that others are being suspected of theft.
Andre' suggests that she announces publicly that she found them.
Louise and Andre' sleep in separate rooms, pretending to be fond of each other
while obviously ignoring each other.
Meanwhile, Lola arrives in Istanbul and starts gambling.
She loses so much money that she has to sell the earrings.
Meanwhile, Italian baron Fabrizio who has just left Istanbul sees a beautiful woman clearing customs and tries in vain to meet her: it's Louise.
His carriage later collides with hers and so he has another chance to introduce himself but she takes off in a hurry. Nonetheless he gets a third chance when
they meet at an official reception.
Fabrizio is a diplomat who has been transferred to Paris and Louise's husband
Andre'. They are interrupted by one of Louise's admirers, an
Englishman, who hopes she will be his lover when her husband Andre' leaves for
military exercises. Louise and Fabrizio meet again at other aristocratic balls.
It is clear that Andre' is not very interested in military matters just like
Fabrizio is not interested in foreign politics.
Fabrizio and Louise fall in love while Andre' leaves for the military exercises.
They are seen at many balls and they are always the last ones to leave the ballroom.
When Andre' returns, he easily guesses that Louise has fallen in love with
baron Fabrizio. Nonetheless, Andre' amicably plays billiard with Fabrizio.
The two lovers have to stop seeing each other and this causes Louise to
fall into depression.
Feigning a weak heart,
Louise then informs Andre' that she wants to leave town.
Fabrizio pays a visit to Louise and gives her a gift: some earrings that
he bought in Istanbul... her own earrings.
She hides them from her husband and throws the case in the fireplace.
She spends days wandering from one town to the next one, always unhappy.
Fabrizio writes her passionate letters every single day.
She reads them, writes replies and then destroys them.
Finally she can't resist anymore and a secret meeting is arranged in which
they passionately make love.
Louise returns to Paris, to Andre', and continues her love affair.
She now wants to wear the earrings at a ball and finds an excuse with Andre' to justify why they are back: she tells him that she had mistakenly left them in some
gloves but of course Andre' is puzzled because he gave them to his lover Lola.
At the ball she dances only with Fabrizio, who doesn't know that those earrings
were famously lost. The general interrupts them. He demands the earrings from Louise and then meets alone with Fabrizio.
Andre' wants to know if Fabrizio met the previous owner, his lover Lola, and
tells him the story of the earrings, his wedding present, and suggests
that Fabrizio sells the earrings to the jeweler.
Louise tries to come up with another lie for Fabrizio but
Fabrizio doesn't believe her anymore.
Ironically, Andre' buys the earrings from the jeweler for a third time
and gives them to Louise a second time.
Now she would like to treasure them like a fond memory of her real love,
but André has other plans for them: he forces her to gift them to
a niece of his who has just given birth.
Louise whispers to Andre' that she will never forgive him.
Ironically, the girl sells them again to the same jeweler (her husband has debts), but this time Andre' refuses to buy them one more time.
On the other hand, Louise sells her furs and jewels and buys the earrings.
She doesn't hide them from her husband: she confesses that she sold everything
she owned for the earrings.
She is now permanently sad and silent, obviously thinking of Fabrizio all the time.
This infuriates Andre' who decides to challenge Fabrizio to a duel.
The outcome is certain: Andre' is a skilled shooter, Fabrizio is an amateur.
Louise begs Fabrizio to withdraw but Fabrizio doesn't to.
Louise prays in a church and then rushes to the site of the duel.
We see that André is allowed to fire first.
Louise hears one shot but not a second one, a sign that the first one killed.
The film ends with a view of the church where she was praying:
she left the earrings on the altar of the saint.
Lola Montez (1955),
a biography of the famous Irish dancer, reworked by the producers because of the scandal it caused but restored in 1968, is a reenactment of the famous singer's loves, now a fallen circus trapeze artist, and at the same time a bitter, Cukorian reflection on the world of show business. The martyrdom of the woman by the hypocritical crowd, envious courtiers and cruel public overpowers the usual erotic delirium and parody of History, allegorically reflected in the circus of dwarfs, tamers and acrobats. Ophuls' hedonistic melodrama reflects a pessimistic philosophy.
The ringmaster of a circus introduces Lola, a countless, who sits in the middle of the circle dressed like a queen and answers questions about her scandalous life for a price, the whole income to be devolved to charity.
People shout their questions. When someone asks how many lovers she had, the
ringmaster shouts back that she owns the world record and then a group of
dancers jump on stage, impersonating the lovers.
Thus begins the flashback.
Franz Liszt, the pianist and composer, and Lola are traveling in a luxury coach with Lola towards Roma.
A carriage follows them: Lola's carriage, ready in case she decides to leave the lover.
They stop at an Italian inn in the countryside and Liszt leaves her.
Back to the circus, the ringmaster introduces a scene of her childhood in India,
and Lola backstage kisses the girl who impersonates her as a child.
Meanwhile, Lola drinks a medicine that her loyal Maurice brought her: she's sick.
The feedback resumes with a boat that brings the teenager Lola and her recently widowed mother back to France.
Her mother already has a new lover, who is traveling on the same ship.
Lola cries seeing them dance together.
In Paris her mother insists that Lola marries a baron, who was her father's banker, a much older man.
They are penniless and the baron is rich.
Lola in reality is in love with her mother's boyfriend, a British lieutenant.
They elope and get married.
Back to the circus, she's getting out of backstage dressed in a bridal dress
for the next scene of the representation.
She's still reminiscing and the flashback resumes.
The lieutenant cheats on her and mistreats her.
One day she runs away.
Back to the circus, we learn from the ringmaster that she dreamed of becoming
a ballerina and started taking lessons.
She became a successful dancer. She is enacting that part of her life in the circus.
The ringmaster then tells us of
a scandal with a Russian general, who fell in love and tried to kidnap her
(and we see cossacks on horses riding through the circus).
She was rescued by a French ambassador, also enacted in the circus.
Meanwhile backstage a doctor comes to visit the clown who owns the circus and
tells him that Lola is gravely ill and the
finale of the show, that he has seen, is too dangerous for Lola's conditions.
On stage the setting changes. Lola is now famous all over Europe as much for her scandals as
for her dancing. She has denied entry to a church.
A former wrestler, Bulgakov, whose career has been ruined, becomes her bodyguard.
A flashback then show us another famous episode of her life: she had an
affair with an Italian orchestra conductor who told her that he was divorced,
but, upon learning that he was still married, she publicly apologized to the
This episode made her even more famous among the aristocrats and the wealthy.
One day the impresario of the circus comes to offer her to join his itinerant show,
offering to bill her as "the world's most scandalous woman".
Back to the circus Lola is preparing for the acrobatic trapeze act while the
ringmaster describes her love affairs with people like Chopin and Wagner.
She kept climbing in society (meanwhile she's climbing to the top of the
circus tent, but we see that she's panting).
The flashback resumes in the snowy landscape of Bavaria, as she is traveling
inside the coach with her maid and her coachman Maurice.
A student who speaks French accepts to show them the way and she seduces him
sending the maid to sit with Maurice in the front.
She takes a room at a hotel but fails the audition at the local theater.
So then she exploits an officer to get close to the king. When the officer
hesitates to introduce her, she simply rides her horse straight into the
troops that are protecting the king during a parade. Rather than punish her
the king grants her an audience and makes sure she gets the job at the theater.
(A comic, satirical Lubitsch-ian scene occurs
when Lola tears her own dress, angry at the kingdom's excessive bureaucracy,
and the whole palace mobilizes to find needle and thread).
The king forbids her to leave town and orders a painting made of her
and picks the slowest working painter in town (to make sure she can't leave
for a long time) who at the end produces a portrait of her naked.
She becomes the king's lover and the king devotes an entire palace to her.
However, the scandalous relationship causes a popular uprising: people
demand that Lola be expelled from the country.
The protesters attack Lola's palace.
The king is forced to flee, and Lola is saved by the student (the reactionaries want her dead but she is a symbol of progress and freedom for the leftists).
The 20-year-old student escorts her out of the kingdom and offers her a new
life with him, but it would be a simple life away from the limelight and... with no money. He's about to graduate and plans to start teaching Latin.
But she is tired of all these lovers and changes.
Back to the circus, the doctor begs the clown to leave the safety net on during
Lola's finale, which consists in an acrobatic jump from the top of the circus
tent (usually she performs without it to make it more thrilling).
And after the jump the ringmaster promises that all adult men will be able to
see her up close like an animal of the circus, an animal that for which
kings and millionaires have sacrificed evereything.
Lola asks that the safety net be removed and then jumps.
She is dizzy and panting, but jumps anyway, and we realize that she risks her
life every night.
She is then exhibited in a sort of cage, and hundreds of men line up to see her
up close and to touch her hand for one dollar.
The plot is self only is a series of skits. The way it is told, however, creates
an innovative non-chronological puzzle that mixes a show about Lola's life performed by Lola herself with flashbacks in Lola's memory: basically her life is
reenacted in two different dimensions that complement each other, art and memory.
This artful biopic is additionally torn between humor and melodrama
as it describes the decline of a legend.
The film is also a chromatic orgy.