Lola Montes

The tension between the longing for love and the actual, realized article underlies most of Max Ophuls' dramas. Appropriately, it's the melancholy center of his last movie (completed in 1955), the eponymous story of "the world's most scandalous woman," an actual 19th-century Irish courtesan (Martine Carol). Her life is framed at a veritable three-ring circus/ cabaret (where she ends up as a kind of sad, freak-show attraction), narrated by ringmaster/MC Peter Ustinov. Ophuls' only color film shot in CinemaScope contrasts her scandalous reputation with tender offstage moments and poetic flashbacks of her "notorious" affairs. Swept along by gliding camera work, which floats through the film as if on the wings of angels, her life becomes a cinematic ballet with Ophuls the choreographer and conductor. Problem is, Carol isn't particularly electrifying or convincing as Lola, whose quiet private demeanor manically alternates with public flamboyance and fits of pique. Yet Ophuls paints a moving portrait of a woman who loved well, if not too wisely. (NR) SEAN AXMAKER

Feb. 20-26, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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