The Bartered Bride (Max Ophüls / Germany, 1932):
(Die verkaufte Braut)

Smetana's comic opera, played earthy and fast like a piccolo for some of the earliest and funniest traces of Max Ophüls' rhapsodic lilt. The top-hatted clown from Lola Montes is here and he's none other than Karl Valentin, his linguistic cartwheels are but one note in the melodic free-for-all. (Chaplin's bear and Max Nosferatu Schreck in full Apache paint are among the attractions in his circus.) The fractured wagon wheel is promptly rhymed with the carnival roulette and thus the rondo structure—mayor's daughter (Jarmila Novotna) and plebeian coachman (Willy Domgraf-Fassbaender), fancy-pants (Paul Kemp) and buoyant dancer (Annemarie Sörensen), figurines in a Kandinsky flurry. "Alles ist so gut wie richtig," actually not so much, the arranged engagement crumbles as the bride dashes out in search of real romance. Accelerating comic rhythms, the dangers of stillness: The runaway couple pose for "the mirror image on paper" that is photography and are nearly caught, they hide in a fairgrounds tent and are treated to amorous ballads and morbid panels. "Das ist treue Liebe..." A centrifugal travesty of operetta tropes, lighter than air until the puppets reveal ardent emotions, outstretched hands not quite touching on the balcony. Lubitsch's Monte Carlo is the clear model, Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night the grateful heir. Already the camera is one of the dancers, it turns 360° mid-song aboard a moving carriage and tracks through an open window to glide over the storybook village at night. The dervishes are brought together at last for a memento, the big-top dowager (Liesl Karlstadt) has one of Ophüls' credos at her fingertips: "True art reconciles." With Otto Wernicke, Max Nadler, and Hermann Kner. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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