Jean-Luc Godard was right when he said Roger Vadim was “with it.” The man didn’t make good movies but he knew what audiences wanted to see. Scarcely a master of social interrogation, Vadim was content hawking middlebrow smut, which usually meant parading whatever women he was fucking in front of his camera. One could say that the only pulse he was particularly good at taking was his own. La Ronde grafts the sexual exploits of a close-knit gaggle of bourgeois dopes into a lifeless vision of art-nouveau Paris. Not only is the film obviously inferior to Max Ophüls’s 1950 version of the Arthur Schnitzler play Reigen, but it cowers in the shadow of Luis Buñuel’s vivaciously twisted Diary of a Chambermaid. Released the same year, Buñuel’s film was similarly spiked with perversion but was seriously concerned with revealing the cracks of bourgeois existence. Buñuel stood generously outside his film, allowing his audience to sift through the cultural and emotional baggage buried beneath its thorny tangle of fetishistic signs. Vadim isn’t quite as inventive: La Ronde is two soulless hours of sexual musical chairs and popping bodices. It’s a personal film in the sense that Vadim’s presence is felt within every frame, but this charisma doesn’t register visually or theoretically but lecherously, usually through the single-minded sexual ambitions of the story’s attractive men. A scene early in the film, in which Vadim’s camera pans across a garden as statues happily respond to a couple’s fornication, also begs a comparison to another, infinitely wiser Buñuel film: L’Age d’Or, in which a woman flips her finger at tradition by kneeling at the feet of a statue and sucking its toe. What’s truly transgressive in Buñuel’s films is flattened in La Ronde, and like the women Vadim married in real life, the women in his films seem interchangeable. If you must see La Ronde, see it only for the amusing expression on Jane Fonda’s face when her character Sophie’s husband reaches into her blouse and starts kneading her breasts with his hungry hands. Her expression of boredom and disgust mirrors our own.
The sound is clean but the image leaves much to be desired, from the occasional glimpses of edge enhancement to the piss-poor black levels.
A really fun five-minute featurette titled "And Vadim Created the Woman" from 1966 that has nothing to do with La Ronde and everything to do with Vadim’s lecherousness. Jane Fonda fans will get a kick out of the interview she gives. Rounding out the disc is a stills gallery and a Vadim filmography.
Try the films of Radley Metzger instead.