Lola Montès

Rated 5.0

At last summer’s Sacramento French Film Festival, the debut screening of Max Ophüls’ restored 1955 masterpiece Lola Montès was preceded by a runway fashion show on the Crest Theatre stage. After nearly a half-hour of self-congratulation, the participants and spectators were invited to stay for the screening; most walked out within the first 20 minutes. So there’s one more reason to despise the fashion industry: They can’t even appreciate the sumptuous visual magic of Lola Montès. The gorgeous Martine Carol plays a 19th-century “courtesan” forced to relive her tragic romantic history in a garish circus directed by an alternately sympathetic and sadistic ringmaster (Peter Ustinov, brilliant). Conventional storytelling takes a back seat to luxurious visuals, as Ophüls’ meticulously fluid camera movements and elaborate designs add immense, self-reflexive layers to the story of a “free” woman regarded as a wild beast.