The Ophuls Shot

On Film / Short Takes — May 6, 2013

The films of Max Ophuls, whose birthday we celebrate today, are luxuriously cinematic. His camera glides and tracks and cranes; we viewers swoon. But, as Molly Haskell has written, “the roving camera and the visual glissandos are never virtuoso flourishes for their own sake”—there is always an emotional and thematic underpinning for the gorgeous embellishment. A particularly famous elaborate Ophuls shot comes at the beginning of the second segment in his triptych of Guy de Maupassant adaptations, Le plaisir. “The Tellier House,” the tale of a nineteenth-century Normandy brothel that enjoys the respect of its community, starts with a bravura single take that establishes the space of the house and introduces its madame but never lets us inside; indeed, throughout the film, the interior of the house will remain a sanctum that we aren’t allowed to penetrate. The remarkable shot, which you can watch below, took an entire day to rehearse and was achieved with a crane controlled manually with counterweights.