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La Ronde (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

May 13, 2010 by  



A sexually charged film from director Roger Vadim featuring an all-star cast but as the film has its share of enjoyable, fun and racy moments, it also has its share of boorish moments as well.  But fortunately talents such as Anna Karina, Jane Fonda and Jean-Claude Brialy help make this film much more enjoyable.

Images courtesy of © 2005 Kino International Corp. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: La Ronde

DURATION: 110 minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Letterboxed (2:35:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 TV’s, Color, French with optional English subtitles

COMPANY: Kino Video

Released Dated: 2005

Directed by Roger Vadim

Written by Arthur Schnitzler (play) and adaptation by Jean Anouilh

Produced by Raymond Hakim and Robert Hakim

Music by Michel Magne

Cinematography by Henri Decae

Edited by Victoria Mercanton

Production Design by Francis de Lamothe

Costume Design by Marc Doelnitz

Starring:

Jean-Claude Brialy as Alfred

Francine Berge as Maximilienne de Poussy

Marie Dubois as La Fille

Jane Fonda as Sophie

Claude Giraud as Georges

Anna Karina as Rose

Bernard Noel as L’Auteur

Maurice Ronet as Henri

Jean Sorel as Le Comte

Catherine Spaak as La midinette

Denise Benoit as Yvette Guilbert

Adapted by Tony winning playwright Jean Anouilh (Becket), Roger Vadim’s La Ronde deftly transplants Arthur Schnitzler’s famous amorous cycle from 19th Century Vienna to a lavishly re-created widescreen Art Nouveau Paris. Vadim’s cast includes Jean Luc Godard muse Anna Karina and The Phantom of Liberty’s Jean Claude Brialy. But for the central role of Sophie, the man who shepherded Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve to the screen (and the altar) set his sites on an American starlet — 27 year old Jane Fonda. Leery of Vadim’s Svengali reputation, but impressed with Anouilh’s literate script, Fonda agreed to appear in La Ronde. Before shooting even began, director and star became lovers and when the romantic film went before the cameras, life and art intermingled freely. “I discovered,” Fonda later recalled of the shoot, “tremendous sexual excitement in having (Vadim) place me in positions he wanted.”

Fonda and Vadim’s auspicious pre-Barbarella collaboration yielded a charming, smart and decorous sex farce. From a delightful credit sequence by Bond film title artist Maurice Binder to the bed-hopping close of the romantic roundelay, La Ronde is as sweet as it is erotic. But re-titled (as Circle of Love), dubbed into English, and advertised with a Times Square billboard of Fonda reclining in the nude, American critics of the time failed to judge La Ronde on its own merits. Now, newly subtitled and returned to its original “insouciant, elegant, witty” (Variety) widescreen glory, Kino presents Roger Vadim’s La Ronde for the first time on in the US on DVD.

Often when it comes to remakes, one tends to compare the original even if the remake is much different.  For example, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005) is much different from the 1971 version of “Wilie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” as is “Alice and Wonderland” (2010) compared to the Disney 1951 animated film and the original Lewis Carrol novel.

So, the question is how to approach a remake of “La Ronde”, a 1964 film that is a similar but much different from the Max Ophüls 1950 film.  Afterall, many film critics at the time recognized the directorial talents of Ophüls and although not everything he touched was gold, films such as “Lola Montes” (1955), “Madame de…” (1953), “Le Plaisir” (1952) and “La Ronde” (1950) received favorable review of the critics.

Meanwhile, director Roger Vadim was beginning to become known more for his sexual conquests than his work as a French journalist, author, screenwriter and actor.  Married to Brigitte Bardot, relationship and had a child with Catherine Deneuve and in 1964, cast the beautiful Jane Fonda who would then quickly become his lover and eventually his wife (and the two would go on to work on their most popular film together “Barbarella”).

I enjoyed the original Max Ophüls film but since I’m not a reviewer of the era nor am I the type to say that I enjoyed every Ophüls film, it’s easier for me to step back and look at this film subjectively for what it is and not compare it to the original.

If anything, my interest in the film is seeing Jane Fonda in another French film, to see Anna Karina in a different role much different from her roles directed by then-husband Jean-Luc Godard and to see how all the talent in this film such as Jean-Claude Brialy, Catherine Spaak, Francine Berge, Maurice Ronet, Claude Giraud, Marie Dubois, Bernard Noel, Kean Sorel and Francoise Dorleac would eventually fit into this sexually inspired film.

The film which was known as “Circle of Love” when released in the US was not really appreciated by the critics but in 1966 the film did receive a Golden Globe nomination for “Best Foreign Film”.

“La Ronde” is a film about sexual exploits and adultery told in short story (or episodic) format.   The film would start off with an individual literally hooking up with a partner, the next story would then feature the partner as we see their sexual exploits with another, and then the episode features on the person they were with and eventually the film would come full circle as one of the characters hooks up with the first main character of the film.

“La Ronde” takes place in France during it’s early teens and begins with a prostitute, La fille (played by Marie Dubois).  The woman is waiting for a soldier who she knows his name as Georges.  She then runs into another guy named Georges (played by Claude Giraud), a French soldier but also a playboy.  Upon meeting, it doesn’t take too long for the two to go find an abandoned place to have sex.

Of course, Georges wants no emotional connection and leaves La fille because he knows he must get back to his base.  The second story begins with Georges going to a dance and using his playboy ways to flirt with one of the women there.  But when the woman’s friend Rose (played by Anna Karina) shows up, immediately George sets his conquest on the innocent Rose.

And once again, it doesn’t take long for Georges to get what he wants as he immediately has sex with Rose.  As Rose is hoping to have this emotional connection with Georges, after having sexing with her, he shows no interest and immediately leaves Rose to go and try to get closer to her friend.

This begins a new storyline focusing on Rose as she is a maid for a professor.  She has her eyes set on her boss’s son Alfred (played by Jean-Claude Brialy) who is sexually attracted to her.  As Rose wants a man to have an emotional connection with, Alfred seems like a good man but once Alfred manages to have sex with her, similar to Georges, he wants no relationship and tells her that it is best if the two kept their sexual encounter a secret.

This then opens a new storyline for Alfred who is having an affair with a married woman named Sophie (played by Jane Fonda).  Sophie has come to his home to tell him that she wants to end her relationship because she is married and she has a child.  But Alfred is quick to use his skills with women and eventually gets Sophie in bed and both have sex.

This begins a new storyline focusing on Sophie who is married to Henri (played by Maurice Ronet).  We get to see how Henri is so conservative and treats Sophie like a housewife and shows no sexual passion towards her because he respects her as a woman/wife.  Sophie tries to get him to talk about his naughty past experiences with women.  And this opens up a new storyline featuring Henri which shows him anything but conservative but having sexual relations with a young woman named La Midinette (played by Catherine Spaak).

The film continues to show us more characters as they engage in sexual activity with other partners and then coming full circle as the final character encounters the first character introduced in the film.

VIDEO:

“La Ronde” is featured in letterboxed (2:35:1) and is enhanced for 16×9 TV’s.  For the most part, the film looks good for a 46-year-old film.  By saying that, it is important to note that the film is not perfect.  You see dust, scratches and negative damage a few times throughout the film.  By no means does it hamper your viewing experience nor is it seen many times throughout the film.  But the film does have its share of some dirt, speckles and negative warping.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“La Ronde” is presented in French with optional English subtitles.  Dialogue is understandable and didn’t know any significant pops, clicks or any audio problems.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“La Ronde” comes with the following special features:

  • “And Vadim Created the Woman” – (7:42) An interview with director Roger Vadim and actress Jane Fonda from 1966.
  • Roger Vadim Filmography – Just a basic screen with a list of selected Roger Vadim films.
  • Stills Gallery – Using your remote, viewers can cycle through still photos from “La Ronde”.

“La Ronde” is a film that aims at beauty and mischief.  For one thing, the sexual theme of each of the stories presented in the film is similar to other films such “Paris J’etaime” and “Heroes in Love” where each story is going to be subjective to the viewer.

For one, I enjoyed the the first five segments.  For any Jean-Luc Godard fan, to see Anna Karina in a more sexual role than other films I have seen of her from the ’60s, so that was quite intriguing as well as seeing Jean-Claude Brialy’s character romancing Karina’s Rose, a different situation several years earlier when the two were in the 1961 film “Une femme est une femme” (A Woman is a Woman).

Then to see Jane Fonda in this role as a sex kitten pre-Barbarella was quite interesting.  And just to think that before she accepted the role for Sophie, she was leery in taking the role because of director Roger Vadim’s reputation but went ahead and did it because of Anouilh’s script.  But once they started shooting the film, Vadim almost like a character of “La Ronde” was able to capture the attention of Fonda and the two became lovers and eventually husband and wife.  And to add to the believability of Fonda’s character as Sophie, the actress said, “I discovered tremendous sexual excitement in having (Vadim) place me in positions he wanted.”

But “La Ronde” has its moments of humor and sexual intrigue along with beautiful cinematography but there are times when the dialogue tend to get overpowering and so dry that the attention and the enjoyability of the film that was built up at the beginning started to wane as the humor started to shift to more dialogue.  In fact, towards the end, the film seemed to become a bit verbose and I admit look at the clock in wondering if the film was going to end soon.

Where the original film earned its reputation for its racy depiction of sexual immorality during a conservative time especially in early 1950’s America when pureness and the nuclear family was being promoted.  Ophul’s “La Ronde” definitely was a sexually, provocative film that those who wanted to see something daring eventually got it with that film.  By 1964, America was a much different country and as much as Vadim’s film fit within the context of sexual freedom, I felt that the more engaging and daring characters were used during the first half of the film and by the second half, the film wasn’t as fun.

For those who are wondering if there is any nudity in the film, there is no nudity and there is no passionate love making on the bed.  If anything, the characters are behind a bush or closed doors but the viewers know what has taken place. Vadim and cinematographer Henri Decaë start using techniques during the lovemaking such as focusing on statuses or areas around the room in an artistic (some may find it dizzying) kind of way.

If anything, the film is about the perceptions of sex between the men and the women.  The women who want more from the relationship outside of sex and the men who only want sex and who sound like they are there emotionally for the women until the sex is done and then they bolt.

So, in many ways, it’s not really a happy film.  In fact, the women who seem to love the sex seem quite unhappy as what they desire seems more like an unattainable dream for them.

Overall, “La Ronde” has its good moments and also its fair share of boorish moments but if you have an interest towards the director Roger Vadim’s works  especially an interest in any of the talents featured in the film, you may find yourself enjoying it a bit more.  Otherwise, the film manages to be mostly average at best.






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