Lola Montès (1955)

A biopic like none other, "Lola Montès" manages to blend fact and fiction so well that the end result is you not caring which is which, just entertained. This is odd for a French film on the verge of the New Wave of cinema—when movies were all about the feel and the look.
With "Lola Montès" we get the precursor to such movies as "Moulin Rouge", "Cabaret", and "Chicago".
We begin in a circus as the countess Lola Montès (Martine Carol) is being presented as a side attraction for the audience. The ring master (Peter Ustinov) uses his large voice and grand presence to bring revere for the slight creature seated in the middle of the stage. She is motionless for a lot of the time and the ring master opens the floor up for questions. People hurl all sorts of interrogations at Lola and she is taken back in time to when she and composer Franz Liszt were in love.
Love plays a central part to "Lola Montès", mostly because our heroine was so unlucky in love. She had so many male companions and none of them seemed to last. Perhaps she was cursed in love, or maybe she just wasn't a nice person, director Max Ophüls is certain to never make an assumption either way.
A movie that saw its fair share of controversy, "Lola Montès" was edited and cut down before its initial release for fear of the scandal it might cause. Many years later it was recut and rereleased as it was intended to be and thankfully that's the version that is easiest to get your hands on.
One can see why it might have caused such a ruffle of feathers—the naked paintings, the male companions, the implications that people actually had sex gasp!
By today's standards, there's nothing even slightly risque about "Lola Montès".
Although it is easy to misjudge the piece because of how it seems to be. The movie appears to be some high society biopic about a woman fallen from grace; but that's not what it is. It's more of a survival story and a meditation on elusive love than anything else. Don't let the pomp and circumstance fool you, "Lola Montès" is a work of staggering emotion.
Above all else, the movie serves as a tremendous technological achievement. Ophüls and cinematographer Christian Matras pull off some tremendous shots here that have impacted directors from Paul Thomas Anderson to Wes Anderson and all the Andersons in between (possibly even Lindsay Anderson).
Yet as we see in a movie such as "The Red Shoes", there is madness beneath the facade. There is an artistry to the decent of a woman and Martine Carol is completely convincing as the title character. She is somewhat reminiscent to Vivien Leigh, which is always a good thing.
As we watch Lola transition from nobody to rich aristocrat to mistress and back, we have to wonder what makes her happy. Just as we wonder this, the movie is sure to capture the disparaging looks that Lola gives to no one. She is not happy; but she is cheerfully colorful as "Lola Montès" is, it is also a very depressing work and highly artistic.
It's glorious in its own way.

Score: ★★★½

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