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Cinematic Self-consciousness in the Opening Sequence of La Ronde

by Michelle Langford

We use this sequence to introduce our first year film studies students to the concept of film style. In particular we highlight the use of the long take and particularly the self-conscious narrational processes of the on-screen narrator. He draws our attention to the cinema's capacity to present events from multiple perspectives and highlights the notion of cinema as a construct.

Directed by Max Ophüls in France in 1950, it is also a homecoming of sorts as he had initially fled Germany for France in the 1930s with the rise of Fascism and then had worked in Hollywood. The onscreen narrator marks this transition quite explicitly by way of his change of costume from a trench-coat (typical attire of the film noir detective) to a tuxedo, which is far more suited to the setting in Vienna in 1900.

Ophüls also makes reference to the cinema's difference from the theatre, as he begins his monologue to the audience on a proscenium stage, promising to tell us a story that has more than one perspective - 'in the round' (la ronde).

The narrator might also be seen as the director's own on-screen surrogate who is capable of manipulating not just the story, but also the lighting and the placement of actors as he sets the scene for the first story in the film about a prostitute and a soldier.

It is likely that Ophüls use of the direct address of the character to the camera/viewer is a nod to the epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht. Contemporary students will be familiar with this technique via its use in such recent TV series as HOUSE OF CARDS. Spike Lee's INSIDE MAN is an interesting contemporary film to set next to this opening sequence of LA RONDE.

La Ronde (1950) Opening Sequence

Opening Sequence of Max Ophüls La Ronde

from La Ronde (1950)
Creator: Max Ophüls
Distributor: Madman
Posted by Michelle Langford