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Most of Roger Vadim's movies are about seduction in one form or another, and when he ran out of classical inspiration (his update of Les liaisons dangereuses with Gérard Philipe and Jeanne Moreau is one of his best films) he turned to genre work and finally to softcore tease pictures. La ronde is literally one seduction after another in an amorous chain of genteel couplings. With variations, the formula served Vadim again in Pretty Maids All In a Row.
Synopsis: A prostitute (Marie Dubois) picks up a soldier (Claude Giraud), who seduces a housemaid (Anna Karina), who seduces the son of her employer (Jean-Claude Brialy), who visits his lover (Jane Fonda), who sleeps with her husband, who takes a casual pickup (Catherine Spaak) to a private dining room. The pickup is promoted by a playwright (Bernard Noël), who renews an old affair with an actress (Francine Bergé), who is visited by a Count (Jean Sorel), who meets the prostitute. "La ronde" is presented as a cycle of seduction and pleasure.
La ronde started life as a play by Arthur Schnitzler, whose other turn-of-the-century scandal Traumnovelle eventually became Stanley Kubrick's film Eyes Wide Shut. Although progressive and thoughtful for 1900, both stories have dated central themes. La ronde's cyclic progression from one partner to another, an erotic relay, no longer seems fanciful or even desirable in a world with better knowledge of STDs. Schnitzler's ever-changing skit format would be lifted as a recurring motif for message movies: There have been several pictures about a stolen handgun moving from owner to owner, or a banknote passing through a series of illicit transactions. Tales of Manhattan is a Julien Duvuvier classic that creates a portrait of society by following a fancy topcoat through a succession of owners.
The classic adaptation of La ronde is Max Ophuls' far wittier adaptation done back in 1950. It uses a stream of clever visual jokes to enliven Schnitzler's confectionary structure. A master of ceremonies character seemingly arranges the liaisons between the lovers, and shows us a carousel representing the evanescent allure of sex. When one character experiences impotence, the carousel breaks down. When a scene threatens to become too erotic, the master of ceremonies halts the film, and physically edits out the offending segment!
Vadim's La ronde is a literal version of Schnitzler's play in period dress, without theatrical intrusions or satiric jibes at its adult content. A simple waltz theme is used to link the stories. Screenwriter Jean Anouilh adds a few philosophical observations that merely underline the basic games that are being played. Vadim's only visible objective is to make the seductions as attractive as possible. The women seem well aware of what is going on, and are often in control of the situation. The seduction of Anna Karina's meek housemaid is revealed to have been mostly consentual, when we later see her invite the attentions of her employer's son. Catherine Spaak's afternoon pickup turns out to be a master manipulator, and Francine Bergé's actress is an old pro at juggling lovers.
Thus Vadim's film is a mild oo-la-la trifle best suited as an ice-breaking date movie for frustrated Frenchmen: Everybody seems to be having sex, an activity that leaves only beautiful memories. As all the lovers remain ignorant of the game beyond their own two 'connections,' their infidelity and selfishness never becomes an issue. Unwanted children and other unpleasant complications are drowned out by pretty color and charming waltz music.
Vadim's main directorial contribution is to make all of his actresses look attractive and distinctive. His picture moves slowly and the format bogs down at least two links before the circle of lovers is closed. There's not much variety in the episodes. Each takes place on its own set, lasts about the same time, and ends with a discreetly ellipsed, implied love scene. Jane Fonda, Vadim's paramour at the time, is the only actress to flirt with nudity. Catherine Spaak comes off as intelligent, Karina as kittenish and Benoît as spirited. Francine Bergé's slightly bored actress mirrors our feelings about the proceedings; Vadim just doesn't have much of a sense of humor. When in need of a visual gag to cap a sex scene in his Pretty Maids All In a Row, the best he came up with were rows of lawn sprinklers turning on.
Kino Video's DVD of Roger Vadim's La ronde is an enhanced widescreen transfer. The quality is a little short of optimal, with colors looking somewhat contrasty and the picture not as sharp as we'd like, but it looks fine on all but the largest of monitors. A stills gallery is included, along with a right-to-the-point five-minute interview film with Vadim and Fonda: It's mostly about Vadim's uh, artistic success with actresses. If that man had a secret, he could have sold it for a fortune. Fonda's command of French in the interview is impressive.
For more information about La Ronde, visit Kino International. To order La Ronde, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson