Lola Montès

The Cahiers du cinéma critics were almost alone in championing Ophuls's commercially disastrous last film. Time has validated them. Ophuls did some of their critical work for them in this self-reflexive film in which narrative is first de- and then beautifully reconstructed. The film recounts in flashbacks the life of the courtesan Lola Montès (Martine Carol), who ended her days as a circus attraction in a series of gaudy tableaux depicting her scandalous life. Peter Ustinov, extraordinary in the role of the ringmaster, invites the audience to ask “the most indelicate questions” of this “monster of cruelty with the eyes of an angel.” She is the cinema's femme fatale come full circle; she is the artist himself, who similarly laid himself open with this film. The flashback also is stripped of contrivance: it becomes pure emotion, the past of a woman who has no present. This is further distilled in the wild colors and sets through which the camera roams, free of any allegiance to narrative space.

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