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World Cinema Series: Lola Montès, directed by Max Ophüls

What World Cinema Series is a monthly screening of works by the boldest and most inventive auteurs from the history of cinema. This series charts both the significant and less discovered territories of cinema – from the early silent era to underground films, and new wave film movements around the world by some of the greatest mavericks and artists of film.
When 8 December 2009 (Tuesday), 7:30pm
Where National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
93 Stamford Road Singapore 178897

Free admission but members only -- flash your membership card to go in. You may bring up to 2 guests if you hold a SFS Reel membership card. Non-members may sign up online or at the door -- we will issue membership on the spot. No tickets will be sold. Free seating.


Tuesday 8 December, 7.30pm

Lola Montès

Dir: Max Ophüls

1955 | France, Germany | 115 min | 35mm | PG

In French, English and German with French and English subtitles

 Once described by American film critic Andrew Sarris as “the greatest film ever made”, Max Ophüls’ last completed film is probably his most ambitious, certainly the most visually spectacular and definitely his most controversial. It takes an intriguing footnote from nineteenth century European history - the tale of an Irish dancer (played by French glamour girl Martine Carol) who re-invents herself as a courtesan for the rich and powerful. The film spins into a dizzying, excessive romp through time and space, with extraordinary camerawork and an experimental use of colour.

Inspired by the non-chronological story-telling tricks of Citizen Kane, Ophüls begins the film at the end of Lola’s life when she is reduced to play the role of a circus attraction in America, while the scandalous highlights of her romances are re-enacted by a motley cast of clowns, acrobats and dancers. Under the sinister guidance of the director-like Ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) the audience is whisked back and forth in time. Lola’s life is imagined as a sumptuous theatrical spectacle which builds towards a tragic climax.

The film suffered a brutal butchering at the hands of distributors, but this version, premiering in Singapore, is the newly restored version based on Ophüls’ original vision.


About the Director Max Ophüls

 Beginning his career as a prolific theatre director, Max Ophüls is a German-Jew whose emergent activities as a film-maker in Germany were cut short by the ascendance of fascism and Adolf Hitler. He left Germany for France, but not before completing an early classic, Liebelei (1933), which is an adaptation of a play by Arthur Schnitzler, whose work he would later return to. After more films in Europe, and a stint in the Army at the outset of WW2, Ophüls travelled to America where he became one of many European émigré directors looking for a job. It took some time for him to establish himself, but in 1948, he directed Letter from an Unknown Woman, a devastatingly romantic melodrama set in fin-de-siecle Vienna. As with many of his films, it had a strong-willed yet ultimately tragic woman at the centre of the story, and it was directed with impeccable attention to composition and design. His other two American masterpieces, Caught and That Reckless Moment (both 1949), are emotionally resonant film noir, also featuring female leads trapped in deadly situations by dangerous and unstable men.

Ophüls’ returned to France where he was able to experiment freely with the technical aspects of cinema, something he had found lacking in Hollywood. This newfound freedom can be seen in La Ronde (1950) and The Earrings of Madame de… (1953). However, battles with his producers characterised his final film, Lola Montès, which was intended to be his most ambitious and complex film yet.

 It was not till after Ophüls’ death in 1957 that critical reflection of his career began in earnest, and this master of historical melodrama was finally seen as a director of exquisite control and psychological insight.