Synopsis: Based on the life of the notorious Lola Montez: a self-constructed celebrity, the real Lola thrived on scandal, creating her own public persona and fueling the fire of her fame through her various romantic dalliances and extraordinary adventures.Max Ophuls' Lola Montes situates Lola (Martine Carol) in an American circus. As an exuberant ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) commentates, we are swept back into the scandalous events of Lola's life: her tormented childhood; her thwarted aspirations to be a dancer; her infamous affairs with men such as Franz Liszt and Ludwig I, King of Bavaria.
A breathtaking film with a powerful emotional grip.
Max Ophüls’ final film, Lola Montès, was something of an ‘orphan’ in its day. Made in 1955, it circulated for years after in battered and cut prints, According to historians, the most expensive French movie made up to that point did not perform well at the box office, and was not popular with critics either. The producers chopped it up, while an ailing Ophüls looked on.
To be sure, Lola Montès is a deeply strange (and absolutely breathtaking) film and watching it today, you can’t help but think that filmmakers as diverse as Derek Jarman, Baz Luhrmann, Peter Greenaway, and Sally Potter must have seen it. Baroque, theatrical, surreal and totally cinematic, Ophüls’ vision is an astonishing blend of the conventional epic costume pic and experimental cinema. There’s not a breath of realism in it, yet, in its exaggerated style, there’s no alienation but a powerful emotional grip.
Structured as a series of flashbacks, the film’s plot deals with the title character, a lady with a "notorious” reputation. The real Lola lived in 19th century Europe and was lover to Franz Litszt and the King of Bavaria and apparently quite a few others. But in Ophüls’ ironic treatment this bio-pic of a famed (or infamous) femme fatale is a meditation on self-made celebrity.
As the movie opens Lola (Martine Carol) is holding centre stage...in a circus! While the Ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) issues forth with a stream of hype, Lola sits impassive, remote, with a rock-like beauty that can’t ever live up to the legend. The film cuts away from this framing device to canvas Lola’s romantic exploits; like her involvement with Ludwig (Anton Walbrook) and a student (Oskar Werner). So bizarre and compelling is Ophüls’ style that when it’s revealed half way through that the circus is ‘real’, a part of the fiction of the story (as opposed to fantasy), it’s a bracing shock. Great stuff.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
Celebrate Australian filmmaking with this home-grown season. Starts May 25.
A month of movies with an edge. Saturday nights in April.