It was last year that Laura Mulvey came here and gave a lecture titled

“Desire and Death in Three Films by Max Ophuls".

Mulvey identifies two types of man in Ophuls’s films: the womanizer and the military man. The latter is the guardian of the linearity of the narrative as well that of the symbolic order; the former brings sexual liberation to the woman and therefore is obliged to confront the military man. This results in the final duel where the womanizer is killed and order (both social and narrative) restored. Mulvey further abstracts these two nicely into the pair of desire/death and finds its prototype in Mozart’s Don Juan.

Much of this actually makes sense, although its oversimplification is obvious. It is those who desire that feel the death most. Desperately, lovers want to verbalize their wish to escape death. And that is why in Ophuls the couple in love keeps bringing up the notion of eternity.

Another direction leads to the birth. If we can suggest something even bolder than Mulvey we might say that Fritz also wants to go to a state of pre-birth, or infancy. In the new DVD released in UK there is a scene where Fritz complains about the furtiveness of their rendezvous and the baroness almost sympathetically agrees that she will come to him if he gives her the key. The 35mm print we saw, as well as the lousy VHS doesn’t have this. Also significant is that at one moment Fritz buries his face in her blossom, like a child and his mother.

Liebelei (Max Ophüls 1933) German.TVRip.3SAT[(011396)14-50-13] Liebelei (Max Ophüls 1933) German.TVRip.3SAT[(011531)14-50-26]

In Liebelie, the same Waltz is used in the scene where Fritz and Christine dance and the immediately following scene where Fritz dances with the baroness. Although the music is produced differently—in the former case by a mechanical organ and in the latter by live musicians, the fact that the same music is used in such a proximity seems to indicate that these two loves, despite their apparent different reception intended for the audience—one to pursue, one to avoid; one true, one false; one good, one evil—are in fact two versions of the same story. The mechanicalness of the love between Fritz and Christine is such that it has to be maintained by feeding the love machine a coin (a token of love) every three minutes.

In the film there is no mentioning of Fritz not in love with the baroness any more. Instead it tells us that he cannot stand the cold gaze of the husband and his brother (a colleague of his). In other words, the illusion of love fades because of an inconvenience. On the other hand, the illusion of love between Fritz and Christine flourishes for a while given the absence of obstacle. Nevertheless it still needs to be nourished by making reference to “eternity”, a most effective and costless commodity between lovers. Fritz in vain tries to locate an object where his illusion can be objectified, fetishized in Christine’s humble apartment. But her father couldn’t help him there.

If one suspect that this sarcasm toward love is a misreading, in another film, also adapted from Schnitzler, the attitude is made clear. Indeed, as Alan Williams quotes La Rochefoucauld, our virtues are disguised vices—love is but a disguised perversion.

A small detail in Liebelie: the military binocular is not an opera glass, which is a usually feminine prop. What we have in the film is instead a tool of investigation, an emblem of authority, a power to look. The two shop girls, for this reason, cannot hold it; the binocular is doomed to fall—and onto nothing but a military man’s cap. Is this a futile attempt of appropriation, of attacking the enemy by their own weapon? This may be ambiguous. But what is striking to me is that the presence of this monstrous binocular can be appropriated, absorbed by a seemingly realistic/romantic context.


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