The films of Max Ophuls consistently manifest an obsession with what the cinema-as a machine-is capable of doing. The extended, elegant tracking shots, which are his trademark, test the limits of the technology, and his play with image and mise-en-scene testifies to a desire to investigate fully the material basis of the medium. Nevertheless, many of Ophuls's statements belie an ambivalence toward the technology of the cinema and a certain anxiety about its relation to representation: "Technology has reached a stage in our profession where it is a threat to our heart"; or "This industrialization-which I have to keep reminding myself in my profession is the guarantee, the material side of its existence-it does leave so much out of account."· For Ophuls, one of the dangers of technology is the annihilation of difference, of uniqueness; as he puts it, "drama cannot be mass produced.,,2 The processes of mechanical reproduction act both as the ground and condition of his signifying practice and as a limit against which he continually strains. In this respect, Ophuls participates in the widespread ambivalence about technology that is characteristic of much aesthetic activity in the first half of the twentieth century. 3

A second, and quite prominent, aspect of Ophuls' s work is his fascination with the figure of the woman and the vicissitudes of her romantic life. Ophuls, like George Cukor, is known as a "woman's director," undoubtedly because his films manifest a predilection for stories about passionate women and doomed love affairs played out in a bourgeois setting. Claude Beylie refers to Ophuls as "assuredly one of the most subtle portraitists of the woman that the cinema has ever given us.',4 The obsession with the cinema as a technology, a technique, merges in a curious way with the desire to represent and re-represent the woman in an early and seldom discussed film by Ophuls, the 1934 La Signora di tutti.5 La Signora, the only film made by Ophuls in Italy, was commissioned by newspaper owner and aspiring film producer Emilio Rizzoli, who wanted to adapt the heavily melodra-

matic novel by Salvator Gotta (serialized in one of Rizzoli's newspapers) for the screen. The title of Gotta's book is linked to an episode narrated within it in which a woman walking by incites a man to think simultaneously of joy and death, causing him to name her "everyone's woman.,,6 An associate of Rizzoli's, Ettore Margadonna, had seen and admired Liebelei (1932) and invited Ophuls, then in exile in Paris, to Italy to direct the film. 7 This invitation was consistent with the Cines studio policy of encouraging international talent to work in Italy and with the corresponqing notion of the "art film. ".La Signora di tutti was a box office success and was awarded a prize as "best technical film" at the Venice Biennial. However, its critical reception was more problematic-film critics responding to it as, in Elaine Mancini's words, a "dangerous sign of decadence in the Italian cinema."g Accusations against the emptiness of technique abound in Ophuls criticism, but the attacks concerning an overemphasis upon technological or formal feats at the expense of "substance" or "ethics" seem to be particularly strong in relation to La Signora. This is somewhat ironic insofar as the film itself produces a discourse on the cinema as a technology-specifically, a technology of temporality.