Friday, May 15, 2009

The Earrings of Madame De

Max Ophüls, France, 1953, bw (8.4*)
This is a gorgeously crafted and beautifully filmed truffle about what else: a romantic triangle among the French aristocracy. The Madame De (we aren’t given her last name to protect the guilty) begins the film rummaging through some jewelry, and finds some earrings to sell. We don’t know why, but we see the innovative direction from Max Ophuls right away as the camera follows her eye, the wonderful actress Danielle Darrieux. She is perfect for this part, always appearing elegant but letting her body language do her acting. I would compare her to Garbo, but the Swedish goddess didn’t have the acting skills of Darrieux. (Don't be misled by the dvd cover, Darrieux is much more beautiful than the cheesy artwork)
After she sells the earrings, a wedding gift from her husband, the Count who’s also The General, wonderfully played by Charles Boyer in perhaps his finest performance, she set a chain of events in motion that seem to force her life to spiral into a web of deceit to everyone in her sphere. She meets an Italian diplomat, played by an appealing Vittorio de Sica, taking a break from directing classics like The Bicycle Thief (1949), and they start a whirlwind flirtation, seemingly blessed by her jovial husband. Here the camera of Ophuls really shines, as we track them dancing through three rooms of opulent French artifacts. The story becomes typically entangled, as only the French seem to encourage, yet the stars of this film are really the Oscar®-winning costumes, the incredible art direction, and the innovative direction of Ophuls, which has the camera in constant motion so the pace never lets up.

Ophuls' masterpiece, as well as the best of a certain type of costume romance that reeks of a lifestyle of aristocratic opulence with little substance or heart. These people seem to possess each other like jewelry, which can be given away, sold, or even re-bought. Madame’s earrings become the perfect metaphor for her affairs of the heart. Before this film, cameras just didn't move this way; film buffs and artists will be entranced by just the camera movement alone.

Also see our review of his triptych of De Maupassent stories, Le Plaisir


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Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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