Lola Montès

Max Ophüls’s Lola Montès (1955) ranks among the most astonishing visual achievements in the history of cinema.  Mesmerizing eruptions of color, kaleidoscopic variations of light, and a riot of opulent details jostle for attention as the camera glides through space like a soft breeze.  The film revolves around a baroque circus starring the dancer and former adventuress Lola Montès (Martine Carol), who reenacts the notorious scandals of her life while the ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) accompanies her listless poses with sensational and bombastic narration.  Flashbacks reveal the reality of Lola’s amorous acrobatics through the 19th Century, most notably her affairs with the composer Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg) and King Ludwig I of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook in a subdued, moving performance).  A meditation on memory, love, celebrity, gender, and time, the film’s thematic complexity mirrors the visual intricacy of its compositions.  The whirlwind activity of the circus and the femme fatale’s parade of lovers were ideal subjects for a director so fascinated with movement – his fluid tracking shots influenced Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson and many of the auteur’s collaborators recall his continuous pacing on the set and his inability to remain still.       


The budget of this CinemaScope extravaganza was astronomical but the film failed to impress hostile critics and audiences.  Frantic producers responded by disastrously reassembling its nonlinear structure into chronological order.  The Cinémathèque française recently restored a print to match the director’s original intentions.  The Criterion Collection’s release of this lush print on DVD and Blu-ray should benefit many film lovers, as the aesthetic magnetism of Ophüls’s final masterpiece promises to draw viewers again and again to its elegant sequences. 

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