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The most cherished work from French master Max Ophuls (La ronde), THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE. . . is a profoundly emotional, cinematographically adventurous tale of deceptive opulence and tragic romance. When an aristocratic woman known only as Madame de (Le plaisir’s extraordinary Danielle Darrieux) sells a pair of earrings given to her by her husband (Gaslight’s Charles Boyer) in order to pay a debt, she sets off a chain reaction of financial and carnal consequences that can end only in despair. Ophuls’s adaptation of Louise de Vilmorin’s incisive fin de siècle novel employs the elegant and precise camera work for which the director is so justly renowned, to ravishing effect.
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MADAME de...opens with Max Ophuls' fluid camera taking Louise's viewpoint as it scans her jewelry cases, and wardrobe, searching for something of considerable value to sell. The woman has rung up a large debt, and she loathes to ask her husband for the money. Reluctantly, she decides on a pair of heart shaped diamond earrings, a wedding gift from her husband that she is not particularly fond of. The sale of those earrings sets in motion a chain of events that will lead Louise down a fateful road, where desire, misunderstanding, and deception, will culminate in tragedy. She finds love but at a drastic cost. In an Ophuls film, passionate love is a thing of beauty, the antidote to a shallow existence, the inspiration for art, and for life itself. It is also a kind of sickness that often clouds one's better judgement, causes one to neglect responsibilities and make rash, sometimes fatal decisions.
MADAME de..., Ophuls finest film, and one of the greatest ever made, is a movie that gets better with repeated viewings. It is so perfectly crafted, and there are many subtleties that can be overlooked on an initial viewing. For example, it took a second viewing for me to realize that the earrings, although carried earlier through various peregrinations by Louise, the Count, his mistress, and Donati, were not fully shown in closeup until Louise's lover, Baron Donati, gave them to her as a token of his love. Once that happens, they take on a special significance, not only for Louise, who looks on them as a surrogate for her lover, but for her husband, who now associates them with his wife's infidelity and the man who is responsible for it. The Count becomes a complicated figure who remarks at one point to Louise that their marriage is in reality, superficially superficial. He may still have feelings for her, or perhaps a mixture of love and guilt, but his wounded pride will lead to actions that will ultimately destroy any hope of reconciliation. The Count is the military man and the Baron the diplomat, but it's the Count who tries diplomacy to save the marriage and his self respect until it becomes a hopeless endeavor, while the Baron, upon learning of Louise's duplicity with the earrings, resorts to a militant obstinacy in terminating the affair. Those earrings that Louise at first wanted so desperately to sell that she prayed in church for it, eventually become something she is so desperate to possess that she sells all her furs and jewels to buy back. They represent her lover and the memory of love that she now owns, that her husband cannot touch. In the final tracking sequence of the movie, the camera will return to the same cathedral in which she at first prayed for the sale, and finally, most desperately, for the life of the Baron, and slowly pan from the statue of the saint down to those fateful earrings, given up by Louise to expiate the imagined sin of the affair, and now church property. Poignant symmetry does abound in MADAME de...
To Max Ophuls, movement is life, and elegant tracking shots are of course, a hallmark of his movies. I think they are most effectively done in this film. The aren't as pronounced or exaggerated in MADAME de..There is a musical quality to them, like the waltz theme hummed by Louise in the beginning and repeated throughout the film. A classic example of Ophuls' genius with the moving camera can be found in the legendary ballroom waltz sequence that follows Louise and the Baron. At points in the dance sequence the swirling pair dissolve and reappear in different settings, time frames, from different perspectives, and with nuances in speech and expression, that ingeniously show the deepening of their relationship. Ophuls also delights in repeatedly using things like staircases, windows, doors, candles, and mirrors to facilitate the isolation or coupling of the characters and highlight themes as the plot develops.
MADAME de... is a movie to be enjoyed and marveled at, over and over..and the cast is superb. My God, has there ever been better ensemble acting in a film than what we see here from Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, and Vittorio De Sica? Ophuls does not let his actors go overboard in their performances. No screaming or shouting. The method would be anathema in an Ophuls movie. Everything is under control, but the emotions seethe underneath, and are given away by an arched eyebrow, a turn of phrase, or a longing glance. Like a Mozart composition, everything is outwardly pleasing, but inwardly aching, but unlike Mozart, with Ophuls there are seldom happy endings. There are few exclamation points but many question marks in Ophuls films and MADAME de... is no exception. Was the affair or even the marriage ever consummated? Were the 2 fatalities a fait accompli, or merely a likely possibility? Assumptions and intimations are made, not statements of fact. This is not reality, but cinema, and Ophuls constantly reminds us of it. As a subtext to the major ideas presented in MADAME de...Ophuls deftly touches upon conflicting relationships existing in turn of the century France..between the sexes, between the classes, and even between the military and diplomatic corps. Also to note in this film are the exquisite sets and costume designs. MADAME de...is a work of cinematic art that will stand the test of time.
This Criterion package includes a booklet which contains an essay by noted critic Molly Haskell, as well as the novella (quite different from the movie), written by Louise de Vilmorin, from which the film was adapted. The DVD specials include an amusing interview with an indignant Mme. de Vilmorin (who ridicules the changes made and calls the film boring), interviews with various Ophuls collaboraters, and an introduction by Paul Thomas Anderson which I didn't find very illuminating. IMO Todd Haynes, who did the intro for Criterion's release of Le Plaisir, would have done better.
To fully enjoy the classic beauty and atmosphere of the film, this Criterion blu ray is most recommended especially for those who are meticulous about the picture and sound quality.
The French used in the film is formal, but intelligible for the beginner - at least 60% of it is - after the first three viewings. Believe me, this is a film that can be seen again and again. As I continue studying the film, I keep discovering new words and phrases, and reviewing grammatical constructions I learned in class.
Danielle Derrieux is ravishingly exquisite and her costars give equally sublime and nuanced performances. Max Ophuls is an awesome director. What an eye! I cannot wait to see what his other films are like!
I agree with film guru Andrew Sarris: this is "the most perfect film ever made..."
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acted and filmed. A CLASSIC!!! THANKS MAX OPHULS …….Read more