Lola Montes: Max Ophuls Masterpiece–Restored

The new ravishing restoration of Max Ophuls’s masterpiece, Lola Montes, arguably one of the most stunning Cinemascope movie ever made, was showcased to great acclaim at this year’s Cannes Film Fest, and will later be shown at Telluride and New York Film Fest.

There is not a single flaw or dull frame in the mise en scene of Ophuls’ majestically baroque masterpiece. Displaying color with a dazzling imagination, “Lola Montes” is the only film ever to have been selected for the New York Film Fest three times: for the very first NYFF in 1963, again in 1969 (in an earlier, not so successful, restoration), and this year.

The noted Village Voice film critic Andrew Sarris famously wrote, “In my unhumble opinion, Lola Montes is the greatest film of all time, and I am willing to stake my critical reputation on this one proposition above all others.” Back in 1969, Sarris wrote, “Lola Montez is clearly the film of the year, or any year.”

In a garishly colored circus, the suckers line up at a buck a kiss with celebrated adventuress Lola (French sex symbol Martine Carol, who was contemporary of Brigitte Bardot), as ringmaster Peter Ustinov starts his spiel and the flashbacks begin.

Ophuls’ first movie in color and widescreen was the biggest-budgeted French film to date, with his always-mobile camera gliding, tilting, and craning amid dazzling sets and costumes, as the oscillation between the tawdriness of the circus and the romanticism of the flashbacks underscores the difference between reality and memory, each flashback with its own color scheme.

Ophuls final work, and arguably the masterpiece of a career that encompassed making films in five different languages, “Lola Montes” was a flop upon initial release. As a result, it was subjected to a brutal butchering by its producers, who reportedly even hacked up the original negative.

After their eventual bankruptcy, the legendary New Wave producer Pierre Braunberger acquired the rights and issued a limited restoration to great acclaim in 1969.

But in the intervening 40 years, restoration technology has progressed dramatically, and many more materials, including the innovative original sound mix, have since turned up.

Thus, in 2006, Braunberger’s daughter Laurence and the Cinematheque Francaise, with the support of the Thomson Foundation, the Franco-American Cultural Fund, and Ophuls’ son Marcel, embarked on a state of the art restoration. Scratches, tears and missing frames were fixed and the full stereophonic magnetic track was restored and remastered in Dolby Digital, with the vibrant hues as conceived by production designer Jean d’Eaubonne and cinematographer Christian Matras replacing the washed-out existing prints.

The original CinemaScope ratio of 2.55:1 has also been restored (later prints were made in the narrower ratio of 2.35:1, cropping off image on the left and right of the screen), along with five minutes of long-unseen footage.

As noted, Lola Montes is an official Selection of the 2008 Cannes, Telluride and New York Film Fests.