Monday, December 4, 2017

Max Ophüls x 7 all in 35mm at the Metrograph

Beginning Friday January 5, Metrograph will present a 7 film retrospective of Max Ophüls, all in 35mm. The accepted wisdom that high style and grand emotion are somehow antithetical is given the lie by the sublime cinema of Ophüls, in which the two walk happily hand in hand. An international filmmaker whose career took him all over Europe, through Hollywood, and back to Paris before his premature death in 1957, Ophüls was a sensitive director of actors whose frame moved with peerless, sweeping grace. (“A shot that does not call for tracks/ Is agony for poor old Max” wrote his friend, James Mason, in a bit of doggerel poetry.) No less a virtuoso than Stanley Kubrick called him master when discussing his personal canon in 1963, stating “Highest of all I would rate Max Ophüls, who for me possessed every possible quality” and praised his “fluid camera techniques.” 
From Mayerling to Sarajevo (1940/89 mins/35mm)
The proverbial lost masterpiece in a filmography full of them, Ophüls’s elegant film of the star-crossed romance between Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Czech countess Sophie, disproved of by royal advisors and assassins alike, allows the director to luxuriate in the starchy, stately, sumptuous atmosphere of the prewar European courts whose follies he both chided and cherished.

The Exile (1947/95 mins/35mm)
Fleeing a Europe in flames, Ophüls found no work in Hollywood after his arrival in 1941, but his fortunes changed thanks to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., then self-producing a star vehicle costume drama and looking for a director who could bring the right blend of sophistication and panache to the project. The result was a custom-fit between actor and filmmaker, a movie of verve and charm set against the backdrop of the English Civil War whose theme of exile coincidentally connected to Ophüls’ own recent experiences.

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948/87 mins/35mm)
In a deliciously artificial fin-de-siecle Vienna concocted on a studio backlot, Ophüls conducts a veritable symphony of moving camerawork, turning Stefan Zweig’s short story of consuming romantic delusion into a voluptuous tragedy begun when a young woman (Joan Fontaine) develops a consuming fascination with a concert pianist neighbor (Louis Jourdan).

Caught (1949/88 mins/35mm)
Barbara Bel Geddes’ fashion model seems to be living in a fantasy when she’s swept off her feet by Robert Ryan’s suave multimillionaire—the character is based on Howard Hughes—but soon discovers that her husband is an egomaniacal and tyrannical tycoon who intends to treat her as another acquisition rather than as an equal. A potent proto-feminist melodrama/ thriller, with James Mason in his American debut lending a shoulder to cry on.  
The Reckless Moment (1949/82 mins/35mm)
When Joan Bennett’s posh California housewife takes it on herself to cover up a crime committed by her daughter, she finds herself involuntarily involved up with James Mason’s unscrupulous Irish criminal—but then unwelcome emotions begin to develop between them that make mere blackmail look like child’s play. While twining together aspects of noir and melodrama, Ophüls creates an emotional experience entirely, inimitably his own.

The Earrings of Madame De… (1953/105 mins/35mm)
Noblewoman Danielle Darrieux, desperate for cash, sells of a pair of diamond earring gifted by aristocrat spouse Charles Boyer, only to have them borne back to her by Vittorio de Sica’s handsome Italian baron, a gift initiating a potentially destructive love affair. An exquisite evocation of Paris in the Belle Époque, in which Ophüls’s camera moves through ballrooms and bedchambers with the weightless grace of a prima ballerina.

Lola Montés (1955/116 mins/35mm)
Ophüls’s final film before his early death at age 54, and his first in widescreen and color, which makes one yearn to see what else he might have yet been able to do. The title’s famous courtesan (Martine Carol) has been reduced to working as a circus attraction for ringmaster Peter Ustinov, nightly reliving her famous affairs with Franz Liszt and Bavaria’s King Leopold I, which are realized in opulent, garish storybook flashbacks.

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