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What an elegant and atmospheric overlooked gem this was from Max
Ophuls! Depicting in his usual florid and incredibly detailed style the
lives and loves of various stereotypical characters from fin de siecle
Paris, when the rich supposedly had taste and grace - before us poor
Instead of watching people on the metaphorical merry-go-round of love as we did in La Ronde or a merry-go-round of stories as we did in Le Plaisir, this time we watch a souvenir of love, a pair of earrings on their travels back and forth between lovers and the same jeweller. The mature lovers were staid Charles Boyer, coquettish Dannielle Darrieux and romantic Vittorio De Sica engaged at first in playful flirtation but naturally turning into something far more serious: love. You are left at the end to extrapolate the outcome for yourselves, but I doubt they went on as Three! All 3 roles were played with beautiful restraint, De Sica especially, coming so soon after Umberto D's overwhelmingly serious message was ignored.
The roving camera-work paying loving attention to the period background sets was sublime, and as can only be found in Ophuls' best 6 films this is how he would have made the film in 1900! The perfectly timed choreography for the dancing scenes of course extended to nearly everything else, even to things as simple as opening and shutting mirrored wardrobes in Madame de 's gorgeously cluttered bedroom or people climbing up or down a rickety wooden spiral staircase at the jewellers. All in all, marvellous entertainment ravishing to the eyes, of a type you won't see anywhere outside of Ophuls. In fact, words have failed me.
It strains the imagination and saddens the heart to wonder at the
of those people, long past, who would strive for such a sublime
"It's when we've the most to say that we're silent"
The dramatic situations develop so that we feel every word the characters leave unsaid. The situation speaks, and then the characters comment cleverly, explain themselves to their best advantage in that momentary sparkle that is "life"
The relationship of the director to his characters: they are allowed to be witty, to be beautiful, profound, and deeply human, yet in this humanity is their futility, a charming futility. As in the classics, The passions rule all humans. The characters are as puppets, not to the director, but to the passions.
The camera moves, yes, and you may have heard of Ophuls' flowing camera. It is not empty style, but dynamism, concision, and, more importantly, the flow of life that is his moving camera. It is the flowing movement of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the inexorable flow of life. The camera doesn't so much follow the actors, but that the flow of life is happening, and the characters are swimming in that stream of happening.
Why does he persistenly show the characters through a pain of glass? These are the boundaries of social propriety, the confines of their situation. Ophuls knew it best: life is a movie
Vladimir Nabokov wrote a short story entitled "La Veneziana"... Have I strayed from the subject? But, aren't all things sublime closely related?
I have learned, through persistent trial, that '98 is a fine year for Rhone. I suggest that you open a bottle, pour a glass, and push "Play" on "The Earrings Of Madame De..."
"unhappiness is an invented thing"
It's a movie I discovered 10 years ago, and I instantly fell in love with it. The romantic aspect of the movie was really jaw-breaking, and I couldn't keep admiring the incredible acting by the Danielle Darrieux/Charles Boyer/Vittorio de Sica trio. I was blown away by the powerful but slow and yet fast love between Danielle Darrieux's character and Vittorio de Sica's, by their beautiful intimacy and passion during the ballroom scenes, by the extremely romantic yet elegant love scene, and also the incredible twist the plot took just because of a pair of earrings!!! A must see!! It's such a shame though that the movie is underrated though it's a classic!! It deserves its place in French movie industry along Marcel Carné's, Jean Renoir's and François Truffaut's classics!!
Call me a pessimist, but the ending of Madame De doesn't spell too much
in the way of happiness for any of the characters, even if what one
might think as the worst possible scenario didn't happen. Max Ophuls,
with his brilliant film The Earrings of Madame De, doesn't allow the
usual catharsis that one might expect from a romantic drama of this
sort, where infidelity is merely implied and the veneer of early 20th
century bourgeois is a cover for a feelings that rarely get in view.
Instead, as with the rest of the film, we're given something of a
wonderful contradiction, where something is compelling and graceful,
but in a sort of dark way too. The doomed love of the film is one where
the simple act of admitting love is a tough thing to do, and at the
same time this doom is contrasted by a very swift, effortlessly moving
camera, which goes around its characters trying to get us completely
immersed in this world while feeling at the same time something isn't
quite right. Why shouldn't Louise get what she really would want? Well,
then the movie would be over pretty quickly.
Instead Ophuls makes Madame De (Danielle Darrieux) a character who goes through a radical transformation: she starts off being careless with how she possesses things, her objects, as she goes randomly in a 'whatever' mode at the start through her possessions, getting ready to go out in the town. She sells off her precious earrings, given as a wedding present, just because, not for any really serious reason. This leads to an amusing trail of sort of a mini-movie, where we see the trail of the earrings: she puts up her cover-story that she lost the earrings while at a show, and despite all ill-fated efforts they can't be found. But, the original seller notifies the Général André de (Charles Boyer, the perfect presence for this role), and he decides to not tell his wife he found them, and instead passes them off to his mistress, who is leaving him to Constantinople. Cut to after she loses them in a gambling frenzy, and it winds up at a pawn shop, and soon after in Baron Donati's hands (Vittorio De Sica, handsome as ever, and with some depth to his soul too). Donati, of course, soon ends up in the life of Madame De at first as a simple diplomat, and then dancing with her every night, and then finally the two barely can stand being away from one another. And what about the earrings?
The love-triangle, of what is there and what isn't for the three of them, is made all the more exceptional here due to two major things really: the performances being as precise to a certain style that Ophuls is after, where there is a total understanding to what is going on but a serious attitude to what the characters are going through, and Ophuls as the director. For the latter, let it be said that this is arguably one of the best directed films not only of the 50s but to come out of France in general. Ophuls puts so many small touches in his pacing and timing of scenes, of how he lets little amusements enter his cheerful atmosphere, especially in the first half. Like the boy who has to keep going back up the stairs to fetch things for his jewel-dealer father, or when the General is looking around for the earrings and the soldiers have to keep getting up, or, of course, the dancing scenes between Donati and Louise, where the tracking shots and the dissolves merge together, and the storytelling becomes completely enriched by this combination of methods.
And Ophuls, to be sure, knows how to make this 19th century upper-class European sentiment genuine through details like how far apart the General and his wife sleep at their beds (not even in the same room), and what is never said outright or expressed makes what is felt all the more powerful. Louise, as seen through the talented Darrieux, is one who suddenly finds from what was previously a fairly basic and comfortable existence in the General's quarters- very rich quarters- to be very constricting and cold when compared to what Donati has to offer. I also liked a lot how Boyer doesn't make General Andre a completely unsympathetic villain either- he's a guy who, sort of like Louise, doesn't know how to cope with possessiveness, and sees his protective shield he's put around Louise from the world as something good for her. And the earrings, which come back to her from Donati, represent all that is possible in loving or not loving someone, with just a reminder being enough. Likewise, there's the aspect of Donati lacking the possessive qualities of his counterparts, but puts him at a disadvantage to be anything more than an incredibly charming facade, in a sense, of what could be.
So there was a lot I left pondering after the Earrings of Madame de, but it was mostly all in the context of this not really being very paunchy or pretentious, but a very exquisite presentation of the tragedy of real love for the privileged in this world. It's very entertaining as well, and I was surprised to see how many times I or someone in the theater had a chuckle (i.e. the running-gag of the jewelry-dealer popping up) when watching the film. And on top of Ophuls incredible visual prowess, the musical score is unforgettable, as I was whistling all those wonderful melodies and suites long after the film ended. Though the Earrings of Madame De is a little hard to find, unless if re-released or through obscure video channels, it's well worth it to see how far a filmmaker can go to revealing the crushing, vulnerable layers underneath the superficial surfaces. Plus, it's a great way to get introduced to Ophuls's unique style.
The most striking element of this film is the way in which the camera
maintains such a fluid and sensitive movement, creating a sense of
frustrated distance between the action within the film and those
viewing it. The opening sequence introduces us to this technique, as we
follow the search of the Countess through her dressing table, and
gradually are shown the reflection of her face in the mirror.
Throughout the film there are numerous long, fluid shots, often
following a character physically through a series of situations and
sets. The camera acts as a totally impartial observer, moving amongst
the set and often being placed so as to appear to hinder a clear view
of the action. However, the complicated and intricate relationship
between the position of the camera and that of the character it follows
is a vital stylistic element. We are distanced from the action, and yet
also have an intimate relationship with it; the fact that the camera
often has to retrace its steps in order to follow the character
presents a spontaneous, realistic image.
More importantly perhaps is the continuity that this camera technique gives the film. The film charts the flow of a series of events that are all caused ultimately by one single event. Visually, the flow of images is indicative of the inevitability of the series of events, and aurally the fact that much of the music that we hear in the film is in fact from within the action, such as the dance and the theater, suggest again continuity and unity, as well as immediacy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The two titles of Max Ophuls' 1953 classic is representative of the way
people saw the film. In France it was 'Madame de...' and in the English
speaking world it is : 'The Earrings of Madame de...'. Most people who
approach Cinema in general prefer intricate plots while in France and
in Europe people concentrate more on form, style and character. Indeed
the plot of 'Madam de...' is perhaps the only reason why it still has
it's detractors since it's about as contrived as it gets with much
attention payed to what's really a MacGuffin.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Madame Louisa de...(Danielle Darrieux) is in a loveless marriage with General Andre de...(Charles Boyer). In the brilliant opening scene she searches for articles to sell to stave off debts. She settles on precious diamond shaped earrings gifted to her by her husband. She gives the earrings to a jeweler and tells her husband that she has lost it. However her husband instead puts a notice stating that it was stolen prompting the jeweler to bring Louisa's adventures to Andre's notice who purchases the earrings back from him and gifts it to his mistress who in turn loses it gambling until it finally reaches the hands of Baron Fabrizio Donati(Vittorio De Sica) who happens to be a diplomat and an acquaintance of the General and also Louisa's future lover.
The earrings are meant to be symbolic but the meaning is so obvious that it's impossible for a director of Ophuls' stature to depend so much on it as to intend the meaning literally. The meaning of the film is not so much the vagaries of fate but about the changing emotional realities of people. Louisa refuses the earrings when it is a gift from her husband, yet treasures it when the earrings are returned to her as a gift from the baron. She then makes a show of 'finding' it so that she can wear the earrings for the Baron, much to her husbands chagrin leading to a tragic climax.
Max Ophuls was legendary for his innovative, breathtaking fluid mise-en-scene and his famous use of a constantly moving camera. Unlike most melodramas which feel overwrought and bore you to tears, Ophuls' film moves at a quick pace because of his gliding, floating ghostly camera that moves with his character as they climb stairs, climb down, circle parlours, doors, windows and so on. His characters seem to be on the move constantly. In one of the all-time great scenes of cinema, Madame de... and Baron Donati fall in love over a series of waltzes effortlessly edited together and the sense of space created is 'real'.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a sad, elegant film this is. The Earrings of Madame de... takes us
into the fin de siecle Parisian world of the mannered rich, where the
act of amorous intimacy is as much an expected social obligation as it
is a personal pleasure, where a serious discussion about serious things
is considered as indiscreet as loving one's spouse.
"Madame de... is a most elegant lady," we are told, "distinguished, received everywhere. She seemed destined to a delightful, untroubled existence. Doubtless nothing would have happened but for the jewels." She (Danielle Darrieux) is married to the rich and assured General Andre de... (Charles Boyer). When she realizes she has debts she cannot pay and does not want her husband to learn of, she sells a pair of diamond earrings her husband gave her the day after they were married. She tells her husband a little lie, that the earrings were stolen. The jeweler, not knowing of the little lie, soon goes to the general, assuming he will want to buy them back. He does, but rather than embarrass his wife, he gives them to a mistress he is saying farewell to as she departs for Constantinople. And there, she sells the jewels to cover her gambling debts. The jewels soon appear in the window of an elegant Constantinople jewelry store where Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio De Sica), an Italian diplomat soon on his way to Paris, buys them. And since fate and convenience work in mysterious ways, Donati meets Madame de in Paris and they fall into what passes for love by their class. Donati gives the earrings to Madame de as a sign of his love, not knowing they originally were given to her by her husband. And Madame de must now tell a few more little lies. When her husband, the General, sees them, she must tell even more. From a story of amusing deceptions and brilliant social manners, the movie becomes a much darker and sadder story. Donati may be in love, but he understands the limits of their social class. Madame de may be in love, but for the first time in her life she moves beyond those limits. And the General? He may be worldly to a fault, he may even love his wife, but even he cannot accept becoming an object of smiles behind fans without taking some sort of action.
Ophuls immediately captures us with the elegance of both his camera and the dialogue, a mix of oblivious self-centeredness and matter-of-fact moral amusement. This was a time, for those who could afford it, before trophy mistresses learned to first demand gold wedding rings, before trophy wives required community property laws, prenuptial agreements and slick lawyers in custom-bought silk suits. Madame de lives in this world and thrives. Her downfall may be the result of the diamond earrings her husband gave her, but it certainly is that she actually fell in love. Not just in love, either, but in love with the memory of love.
What a pleasure it is to see subtle and experienced actors as Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica take their roles and bring them to life in such a way that we are forced to continually readjust our feelings toward their characters. When Boyer as the General comments to his wife that "a liar should have more sangfroid," he manages without effort to show amusement, indulgence, perhaps love, but also a little distaste, all in one line reading. All three expertly show us a class of society it's more satisfying to be amused by than to take seriously, yet all three succeed in making us take their characters not only seriously, but each one with a good deal of sympathy.
Max Ophuls directs this tale of romance and jealousy set near turn-of-the century France. Danielle Darrieux plays the unsatisfied wife of an adulterous French General, Charles Boyer. In order to pay off other frivolous expenses she has incurred, she sells off the earrings that her husband had presented to her on the day after their wedding, and then claims that she lost them. She meets a princely Baron, Vittorio de Sica, and romance slowly blooms. Meanwhile, the earrings she has sold keep turning up in her life only to haunt her. The three leads are wonderful, as is the atmosphere in this luxuriously elegant French film. The change in Darrieux's feelings for the earrings keeps the film fascinating throughout. The emotions of all the characters are presented in a romantic, yet somehow realistic nature.
A woman's constant lying leads to first humorous, then tragic
Though not as dazzling as Ophuls' greatest works, 'La Ronde' & 'Le Plaisir', this more conventional romantic melodrama still has his magic fingerprints all over it & is a joy to behold. The acting of all three leads is simply immaculate (witness the scene in the railway carriage as a couple part - the hesitancy, expectancy, the kiss at last upon just the hand... just sublime).
Seldom, if ever, have I seen the affairs of the human heart portrayed so compassionately, & with so little judgement or blame. I am so glad to have finally discovered the films of Max Ophuls.
In the end of the Nineteenth Century, in Paris, the futile Countess
Louise (Danielle Darrieux) is spending too much money and decides to
sell the valuable earrings her wealthy husband, General André (Charles
Boyer), gave to her in their wedding to the jeweler Mr. Rémy (Jean
Debucourt) to pay her debts. Then she lies to her husband telling that
she has lost them in the theater. When the general resolves to call the
police, Mr. Rémy visits his client and discloses the truth about the
earrings. General André secretly buys the earrings again and gives to
his mistress Lola (Lia Di Leo) that is moving to Constantinople. Lola
gambles and loses, and needs to sell the earrings. The Italian diplomat
Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio De Sica) sees the earrings in a window
of a pawn shop, he buys them. Donati travels to Paris and meets Louise,
and they become lovers. He gives the earrings to Louise and she tells
another lie to her husband, telling that she found them in her drawer.
Her little lies lead the lovers to a tragedy.
"The Earrings of Madame de..." is a beautiful and stylish romance directed by Max Ophüls where a pair of earrings is the pivot for romantic but also tragic situations. The production is impressive, with wonderful locations and set decoration, elegant costumes and magnificent black and white cinematography. The story of a passionate woman that uses to lie and finds her true love is tense, with great performances. I saw this movie for the first time on 24 June 2001 and I have just seen it again. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Desejos Proibidos" ("Forbidden Desires")
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