The film presents scenes from the life of the 19th century dancer Lola Montès as told by her via flashbacks from her current life — as a performer in a circus, where the ringmaster (Ustinov) befriends her.
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This would be the last film directed by Ophüls before his death of a heart attack in March 1957. As originally shown in France in 1955, the audience sees the events of Lola Montès' life through the use of flashbacks. Use of the technique was criticized upon its release and the movie did poorly at the box office. In response, the producers re-cut the film and shortened it in favor of a more chronological storyline, against the director's wishes.
According to Roger Ebert, a "savagely butchered version was in circulation for a few years" following Ophuls' death. The film critic Andrew Sarris and others eventually showed improved versions, progressively closer to the original, at the New York Film Festival in 1963 and 1968.
Certain elements remained missing and believed lost, but the recent discovery of the lost footage allowed a new version to be edited according to Ophul's original intentions. It was shown at the New York Film Festival in the restored version on Sept. 26 – Oct. 12, 2008.
Source : Wikipedia