Ophuls at BAM: Letter from an Unknown Woman

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11/28/2007 10:00 AM |

About Max Ophuls, the subject of a major BAM retrospective beginning today and continuing until the week before Christmas, L film critic Cullen Gallagher notes:

“[Ophuls’s] career [was] dedicated to illicit
affairs and turbulent passions; tortured women caught between their
desires and society’s strict mores; and a swirling, mobile camera that
expresses life’s fatalistic merry-go-round unlike anyone else’s before
or since.”

Which, yeah. Ophuls was born in Germany and did significant work (cinematic, mostly, but he started in the theater) in most major European capitals as well as America. (His nomadic existence was partly the standard financing difficulties, and partly the fact of his being a German Jew who was perceptive enough to flee his country in 1933, but unlucky enough to flee to, um, France.) He has a reputation for sophistication that’s based largely on the external trappings of his work — those famously elaborate dolly shots, elaborate decors, and exacting manners — and which is justified by his skill at calibrating his surfaces to reveal deep layers of swooning feeling and bitter irony.

The series begins with a weeklong run of 1948’s Letter from an Unknown Woman, from the director’s too-compromised American period; as you might expect, few directors were as suited to the glamour, articifice, and emotion of the classical Hollywood melodrama.

And your BAM-vicinity restaurant guide: well, Ophuls started out working in the Viennese theater, and wouldncha know it, the restaurant right across the street from BAM is the beloved beer garden/hearty Vietnamese restaurant Thomas Beisel. Say it with me one time: Wiener schnitzel.