La Signora di Tutti (Italy, 1934):

The sole fruit of Max Ophüls' Italian pit stop during his nomadic path through '30s Europe, this splendiferous melodrama continues the lilting path of his early German hits while looking ahead to many of the themes of the late masterpieces. Of the embryonic motifs, there's the reflective flashback structure later used in Letter From an Unknown Woman and, supremely, Lola Montès, with which the film also shares a performer heroine -- movie diva Gaby Doriot (Isa Miranda), first seen sprawled on a bathroom floor following a suicide attempt. With the anesthetic mask bearing down on her at the operating table, the peaks and valleys of her tragic life emanate through her memories. Already tainted with the stigma of shame as a student after helplessly causing the suicide of a smitten teacher, she falls in with a rich young suitor (Federico Benfer) and, while he's away in Rome, cares for his invalid mother (Tatiana Pavlova) and becomes involved with his infatuated banker father (Memo Benassi) -- all of this before ascending (descending?) to the entrapping glitter of cinema fame as "Everybody's Lady." Passion intoxicates, yet it also aches, ruins careers and, in the end, leaves no less than four bodies in its wake. Ophüls is alive to both the ecstasy and the rubble of love, and knows how the tragedy of the characters is inseparable from their romanticism (Gaby is trapped not only by the image imposed on her by the men of her life, but also by her illusions). Throughout, the camera dances, the musicality of rhythm of Liebelei pushed further and, as always with Ophüls, thematically -- the accelerated tempo of the opening sequences, with cigar-gnawing moguls panicking over losing their prized commodity, is in fact a degradation of the delicate tracking that expresses the heroine's blossoming emotions at a dance ball or a boating interlude. Accordingly, her demise is punctuated by a halted printing press churning out the actress' picture, a still-life suffused with death. From Salvatore Gotta's novel. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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