They showed all three yesterday at MoMA, projected in 35mm prints, so I wound up spending the whole day watching all three, though I probably dozed off for 15 or 20 minutes during La ronde and The Earrings of Madame de…. Nothing to do with the films themselves, I was already physically tired by the time I got to the theater for La ronde.
La ronde is marvelously entertaining, but having seen it several times already, it feels rather light and frothy compared to the next two. The "middle story" of Le plaisir is still the main attraction for me (and I think it takes up most of the film too), and it seems to get better with repeated viewing. I honestly think it's one of the best things Ophüls has done, there's always more to discover in it. Incredibly entertaining and funny, but also incredibly moving - the church sequence especially and the relationship between Gabin and Darrieux for how much is left unsaid. On its own, it's a stone-cold masterpiece.
Both films do build to The Earrings of Madame de… in a lot of ways. La ronde felt like a dry run for Earrings' plot structure, but this time we're not tracking love's movement but the movement of the earrings from one person's possession to the next, and it's even more rich and devastating to see how their meaning evolves over time, entwined with the changes in Madame de…'s own life.
What stuck out this time though was how compressed things feel. The waltz that dissolves across weeks is a good example, and even the lead up to the duel seems fast. Not rushed, but incredibly fast - I kind of got the sensation of a story hurtling towards a pre-destined doom, moreso given the references to fate and the characters' own surprise at the sometimes frustrating, sometimes miraculous return of the earrings to the jeweler and Madame de… time and time again.
All three were projected in excellent prints, though La ronde didn't have subtitles, so they had to project a set underneath the screen. And for some odd reason, I feel like the subtitling for one of my favorite lines was botched in Le plaisir - when Gabin mentions that all children need religion so they can choose whether to leave it behind when they get older. It seemed like the last bit of that line wasn't subtitled at all. Regardless, if they play them again, definitely catch them.