I have to be honest, I had never heard of Max Ophüls until February during TCM’s 30 Days of Oscar. I watched La Ronde as part of my March Around the World this year and was not a fan. From now watching Le Plaisir, they’re very clearly made by the same filmmaker, but the ideas and views expressed in Le Plaisir are less shallow. There is still plenty of cynicism to go around, but there is a touch of optimism in Le Plaisir. Regardless of how I felt about La Ronde, one thing I can say is the two films I’ve watched had me thinking about his ideas.
Ophüls clearly has an obsession with infidelity and I’m unsure if it’s related to French culture around the time of the stories or just his perception of the world and/or monogamy. Just like La Ronde, cheating on your wife or significant other is presented in such a casual manner you would think it was an every day occurrence outside of his films. There’s a comedic undertone Ophüls expresses as well particularly during the second vignette that is rather interesting because of its joyous nature.
Films made up of vignettes can be a recipe for disaster because some may be good and others may be bad. As a result, a film can come off disjointed. All of the stories need to be engaging enough to keep the story going along smoothly. Story One and Three are interesting enough, but Le Plaisir‘s second, “La Maison Tellier,” is where the film truly shines.
Before the second vignette begins, the narrator describes it as a fairy tale and it’s absolutely true. The way the camera shoots the brothel is the way you might shoot a castle. Even though the camera is voyeuristic, it never feels obtrusive and the audience never sees anything private that the parties involved wouldn’t want you to see (except their wives). The countryside is absolutely beautiful. The countryside scenes have a classical Hollywood feel and look.
I have to admit, I wouldn’t normally say this, but I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful the second vignette would have been in color. The whole vignette, particularly the scenes in the countryside, feel like they’re begging to be colorized. The “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White” Oscar nomination the film received was very well-deserved.
I love the way “La Maison Tellier” is constructed. When I was watching it I was unsure what the story was going to be and who it was going to focus on. Once the film centers on the main characters, it really hits its stride. The story flows so well and is fascinating enough that it doesn’t matter how free the story feels. The story could have gone anywhere and I would have followed it without hesitation.
“La Maison Tellier” is where Le Plaisir truly shines.