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Cinema: Roger & Over

2 minute read

Circle of Love. The doe-eyed young wife (Jane Fonda) glances at the would-be lover who has lured her to his flat. “Alfred, if you really love me, you won’t keep me here,” she murmurs, but her look belies her words. With frail remonstrations, she has already removed her hat, veil and gloves. Only moments remain until everything else comes off.

Such moments occur frequently in this racy, juvenile, artfully photographed peep show by Director Roger Vadim (And God Created Woman). In 1950 France’s Max Ophuls made La Ronde, a subtle, deliciously graceful film based on Arthur Schnitzler’s period play Reigen. Without losing the rueful cynicism of the original, Ophuls described the efficacy of lust through ten amorous intrigues involving five men and five women. A prostitute takes a soldier. The soldier takes a chambermaid. The chambermaid takes a young man. And so on, until the last lover completes the cycle in the prostitute’s bed.

Director Vadim has not reinterpreted La Ronde; he has simply thrown himself upon it like a pimpled schoolboy tussling for kisses in the cloakroom. Famed for his ability to guide young actresses from obscurity to nudity, Vadim usually displays them backside up amidst a pile of sheets. In Circle, with five lissome beauties at his disposal (Fonda, Catherine Spaak, Anna Karina, Francine Bergé, Marie Dubois), he simply varies the routine with a good deal of explicit groping, button tugging and lifting of skirts.

When Vadim tires of treating sex as a naughty joke, he pads episodes with excursions into screwball farce. Playwright Jean Anouilh’s scenario seldom seems funny, perhaps because the laughs are lost in the dubbed English version. Frequent close-ups make accurate lip synchronization impossible, and the flat, disembodied voices set up a sound barrier. It is a bit like watching dancers whirl through a Viennese waltz while the band plays Yankee Doodle.

Despite serious shortcomings, Circle of Love is worth seeing if only for its breathtaking color decor. The camera wizardry of Henri Decae produces acres of gauzy portraiture, plus one exquisite vignette in the style of Lautrec, and nearly always the film glows in a red, green and golden wash of art-nouveau elegance. Against such sumptuousness, Vadim’s elementary lechery seems to be the only thing out of place.

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