Synopsis: Adapted by Tony winning playwright Jean Anoulih (Becket), Roger Vadim’s La Ronde deftly transplants Arthur Schnitzler’s famous amorous cycle from 19th century Vienna to a lavishly recreated widescreen Art Nouveau Paris.
Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim’s auspicious pre-Barbarellea collaboration yielded a charming, smart and decorous sex farce. From a delightful credit sequence by Bond film title artist Maurice Binder to the bed-hopping close of the romantic roundelay, La Ronde is as sweet as it is erotic.
La ronde (1964) 7.75
eyelights: its original concept. the lovely women. its subtle sexiness.
eyesores: its lack of plot. its length.
“That was very naughty.”
How times have changed. In 1903, when Arthur Schnitzler first published his play ‘Reigen’, on which ‘La ronde’ is based, it created quite a stir. It was censored soon after publication and wasn’t even brought to the stage until 1920, after having been published in a few other languages.
But even though the play was controversial, eliciting such extreme reactions that Schnitzler decided to curb it in German-speaking countries. It took thirty years before Max Ophüls produced his award-winning ‘La ronde’, which was the first motion picture based on Schnitzler’s play.
In 1964 came Roger Vadim’s own interpretation of ‘La ronde’. By then, Vadim had a reputation for making sexy films with some of the world’s most desirable actresses, such as Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Annette Stroyberg – all of whom he was either married to or was involved with.
‘La ronde’ is a plotless motion picture that strings together brief romantic encounters, starting with a prostitute and a soldier, then the soldier and a maid, then the maid and her employer, and so forth, making its way back to the prostitute with yet another male character in the end.
Although the original play’s intention was to challenge Austrian sexual mores and class boundaries, Vadim’s sex comedy, which transposed the setting to Paris, seems to be more about the eye-candy than content: every scene is meticulously staged and dressed, as were the fetching actresses.
In fact, Jane Fonda, who stars in the centrepiece segments, recalled that she “discovered tremendous sexual excitement in having him place me in positions he wanted”. It wasn’t long before the pair had a love affair and were married, a relationship that lasted into the early seventies.
‘La ronde’ wasn’t Fonda’s first motion picture, but it was the one that made a sex symbol of her. It was also her first flirtation with controversy: rebranded ‘Circle of Love’ in English-speaking countries, it featured one of the first nude scenes by an American actress on the silver screen.
While it pales in comparison to anything that followed, it does show a lean and lovely Fonda barebacked, barely draped by bed sheets. It is memorably sexy, as is the rest of the picture – though, with the exception of a shocking fondle, it is actually quite discreet, more suggestive than explicit.
And yet, I found it far sexier than many more erotic films, because of its restraint: it has a playful, nearly flirtatious quality about it that is infectious; it’s as though Vadim purposely teased his audience, letting its imagination unfold, but never quite giving it what it wanted.
He leaves you right on the edge.
The picture is also quite whimsical in its delivery, something which made me chuckle regularly, even though it’s not overtly comical. It’s all in the dance of seduction between men and women as they try to bed each other, sometimes pretending to protest though their ultimate goal is to give in.
‘La ronde’ was a lot of fun. Though it eschews plot for concept, it’s always entertaining, deftly taking us from one encounter to the next in such a way that the picture never truly lilts. Add to this its light-heartedness, naughtiness, sexiness and eye-candy and it’s a delight to watch.
I’ll no doubt give it another spin someday.
Date of viewing: November 10, 2016