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La Ronde: Film Review

The film La Ronde was screened by the well-known director Max Ophüls. It is based on the plot of the play La Ronde, written by the famous dramatist and author Arthur Schnitzler. In general, the film tells the story of encounters (before or after sexual contact) between people of the different social levels and demonstrates how sexual contact transforms the limits of class. Many scientists have commented on the correlation between some of the concerns of the film La Ronde and the theories of the famous Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. The theories of both men can be contrasted and compared in many ways, especially in terms of representation of the correlation between sex and death, the extent to which sex impacts/underlies human actions, and the fruitful role of the unconscious.

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Schnitzler’s La Ronde is very closely connected to Freudian theories, especially to his views about the female sexuality, understanding of the unconscious and sexual desire. Freud remarked: “The only unnatural sexual behavior is none at all” (Fisher, 2009, p.127). So, the willingness to have sexual contacts with strangers or well-known people is closely linked to these words. Thus, the exploration of the women’s sexuality was practically a leading theme in the play. Actually, all the plot of the play spins around sex, and nine of the ten scenes covered the sexual intercourse. In fact, the actors created the impression of the round play, as one character from the previous scene appeared in the next stage, while the actor from the first scene finished the last one (Berry, 2012). In La Ronde, Schnitzler masterfully described and managed to represent the difficult social limitations on the theme of sex in the Viennese society at the end of XIX and the beginning of the XX centuries (Schnitzler, 2014). Similarly, in his works Sigmund Freud analyzed and overviewed the prurient struggle of Victorian Vienna people. Fleetwood (2016) remarked: “From dreams, to Freudian slips, to free association – delving into one’s unconscious as a means of unlocking often hidden or denied fantasies, traumas or motivations is still crucial to gaining the whole truth about human behavior”. Schnitzler filled the play La Ronde with the number of hidden symbols and interpretations. Freud stated that all the people are sexual beings right from the early childhood (Bruess, C. E., & Schroeder, 2013). Schnitzler included famous Freudian symbols, basing on the “free association” described by Freud in his famous work Studies on Hysteria (1985), stream of consciousness and dreams (Ciabattari, 2014). The connection between Freud and Schnitzler can also be explained by the fact that they both had trainings in the field of neurology in Vienna (Berry, 2012). In addition, Schnitzler was familiar with the scientific contribution of Freud in general and the work The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) in particular (Freud, 2015). Therefore, it is possible to presume that Schnitzler was motivated and encouraged by the works of Freud during the creation of his play La Ronde.

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Max Ophüls has masterfully transformed Schnitzler's play into an emotional reflection on the fleeting nature of love (both melancholic and humorous) through the several short vignettes of love. The movie addresses numerous thought-provoking psychological questions in terms of class ideology and sexual morals. La Ronde occupies a special place in the director’s filmography, as Ophüls managed to create and represent a thin line that separated the true love from sex. In particular, this line was a special marker that helped to distinguish different dichotomies, namely the rich and the poor, the reality and the illusion, honesty and deception as well as sacred and obscene actions. While watching the different episodes of La Ronde, the audience could notice that the concepts of love and sex do not remain the same in the context of the relationship between a man and a woman. White (2011) remarked: “The lovemaking in La Ronde, a series of couples embracing sexuality-as-deathmerrily, drunkenly, or in the deadly stillness of marriage”. Moreover, La Ronde remains a grim reminder that social conventions have been challenged, and many people from all the social classes have been involved in the spread of illegal love. Also, the movie La Ronde can be considered as a veiled allusion to Freud’s views about sex and social classes. In fact, Schnitzler's play mixed almost all the social classes, from the prostitute to the count, and all of them were moved by the sexual desire. As well, Schnitzler and Ophüls paid attention not only to the social status of the characters, but also to their gender types. Actually, Schnitzler has created bright conventional masculine-feminine dichotomies aiming to undermine and complicate them. Also, La Ronde is considered as a variety of the “medieval dance of death” that showed the “death” of differences between social types, where all (from poorest to the richest) can interact in one common dance. With the help of the round play, the director managed to represent the easy transition from one sexual partner to another through the repetition of the similar themes and scenes. Moreover, Ophüls has masterfully emphasized the intimate relations through the actors’ phrases and movements.

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Also, one of Sigmund Freud's famous works on the theme of the classical psychoanalysis covers the concept of parapraxis (also known as Freudian slip). It is also closely related to the main theme of the movie La Ronde. Parapraxis can be applied to understand the frantic mixing of people and emotions (there is a constant search for new love and short-term relations). Freud found out that there are actually no accidents and coincidences in people’s actions. He stated that even the ideas, actions, impulses, and feelings, which are unimportant from the first sight, can carry unconscious meanings (Krasner, 2011). Freud’s views are closely interlaced with the movie’s plot, where sex became a “prime motivator and common denominator” for all people (Fleetwood, 2016). Furthermore, Sigmund Freud remarked that “sexual excitation is not restricted to genitalia, as pleasure is achieved through erotic attachment to potentially any idiosyncratically defined area of the body, and most definitely not limited to genital intercourse between a male and a female” (Fleetwood, 2016). Thus, even the most faithful, prudent, and virgin people may significantly struggle against their sexual needs, wishes, and expressions. As well, the close connection of the Freud’s and Schnitzler’s ideas is visible in the understanding of love. For example, Freud underlined love as a “temporary state of madness, a state that can be all-consuming and in which the moment is forever” (Sutton, 2013, p. 112). At the same time, Schnitzler showed the meaning of these words in his play La Ronde, where people became the “victims” of love and sexual relations.

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However, it is important to state that the views of Freud, Schnitzler and Ophüls have small differences in terms of understanding the importance of sex and love for women. Freud stated that love is more valuable and important for women, while Schnitzler and Ophüls showed in La Ronde that sex was more important for women than love. It is particularly visible in the scenes with the soldier and the prostitute, the scene with Grisette and the young poet, and an actress and the count.

To sum up, it is important to state that the ideas depicted in the movie La Ronde and the theories of Sigmund Freud are closely connected to each other. Both of them masterfully represent the human desire to sex, female sexuality, and the role of the unconscious. Moreover, the film La Ronde can be justly considered as the human carousel of pleasure, as both men and women satisfied their natural instinct with joy and happiness. Overall, Schnitzler’s play and Ophüls’ film, as well as the sexual impulses in them, had practically the same shocking effect on the conservative society, just as Freud’s psychoanalysis theory postulates that sexual impulses lead to the development of neuroses and other mental diseases.

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