The Earrings of Madame De... (1953) Poster

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"If one has too much to say, words fail"
Spondonman10 March 2007
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 diluted them.

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.
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a rarity: a beautiful, romantic film about the lack of romance in people's lives, of possessiveness, and the collapse of humility
Quinoa198428 March 2007
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.
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One of Max Ophuls most elegant and saddest films, with superb performances by Boyer, Darrieux and De Sica
Terrell-46 February 2008
Warning: 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.
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If it weren't for Turner Classic Movies....
blanche-216 September 2009
I keep wondering where these amazing treasures, such as "The Earrings of Madame De..." have been all my life. This 1953 Max Ophuls film is magnificent in every respect - direction, acting, script, photography, with just the right touch of humor for what is, in essence, a tragic love story.

It is 19th Century France. Danielle Darrieux is "Comtesse Louise De..." who in the beginning of the film sells a pair of heart-shaped earrings given to her by her husband, General Andre De... (Charles Boyer), as she has some expenses that she must meet. She trusts the jeweler's confidentiality. During a production of "Orfeo e Euridice," she announces to Andre that she's left her earrings somewhere. However, the jeweler tells Andre about the sale; Andre buys back the earrings and gives them to his girlfriend, whom he's dumping. When she needs gambling money, she sells them, and they are purchased by Baron Donati (Vittorio di Sica) as a gift for his new girlfriend - the Comtesse Louise! The earrings are a symbol of fate, the volatility of love, and the meaning of possession. The General is a possessive man, but he wants to have his cake and eat it, too, presenting these beautiful earrings to two women. The Comtesse doesn't want the earrings when they're from her husband; when they're from her lover, she's desperate to find a way that she can wear them and resorts to manipulation in order to do so. For Donati, they're a symbol of romantic love, but when he realizes that his beloved is flesh and blood and not totally truthful, he becomes disillusioned.

All of this is done with looks, a word, a suggestion, a dance, the placement of furniture (the General and Comtesse sleep in the same room, miles apart) - nothing too overt. The delicacy and subtlety of the film is magical.

The beautiful Danielle Darrieux, now 92 and with a film coming out next year, does a beautiful job as the flirtatious Louise, who becomes more involved than she planned - she goes from flirty to passionate and finally to desperate. DeSica is a handsome and charming suitor; and Boyer has just the right amount of edge on his performance. He's not the monster of "Gaslight," but an authoritative Frenchman who doesn't want a scandal and becomes annoyed when he sees that his wife's romance has gone a little too far.

With its fluid photography, pace, and romance, "The Earrings of Madame de..." is a true gem. No other way to describe it.
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The fluidity of the camera movement.
bell-jar13 November 2006
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.
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Sublime, Graceful, Charming, Ruthless
withnail-46 July 2000
It strains the imagination and saddens the heart to wonder at the existence of those people, long past, who would strive for such a sublime accomplishment.

"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"

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Amazing Grace!!!
artihcus0222 November 2006
Warning: 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'.
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Earrings, Little Lies and Great Tragedy
claudio_carvalho18 February 2015
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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One of my all-time favourite movies!!!!
french-ingenue174 June 2004
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!!
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Memorable Classic
harry-761 March 1999
Max Ophuls' masterwork, "Madame de . . ." retains its haunting beauty, with memorable performances, photography, and direction. The tracking shots are remarkable, as is the quality of the overall production. Charles Boyer heads a distinguished cast that works like a finely tuned string trio. A genuine film classic.
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An exquisite film from abroad...
FelixtheCat31 May 2000
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.
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An elegant film of constrained passions, romantic lies, love and death.
carlotta_mart4 July 2006
The film is elegant, although it is a bit cold, without harming, however, its remarkable level. In fact, it perfectly counterbalances the expressed love of Baron Donati for Madame Louise, the unexpressed love of Madame Louise for the Baron, her pastiches and dangerous lies, the mystery that surrounds her, starting from the original title, "Madame De…", a mystery by which she likes to be surrounded. Also the love concealed under formal acts of a daily routine of the General towards Louise, his wife, is very important for the story as well as his jealousy, which is very refined, under the aspect of a "nonchalant" friendship for Baron Donati, up to the final cruelty. The lightness of music, the high rhythm of dances, the brilliant military and diplomatic uniforms, the precious toilets, all cooperates to construct a romantic but not too sweet atmosphere around passions, secrets, untrue confessions, disappointments, pains, death. Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, Vittorio De Sica, in spite of their different extractions as actors, are softly melted in a plot tasting peach and lemon. Danielle Darrieux is faithful to certain roles performed by her, Charles Boyer appears to have forgotten his passionate roles as a lover and Vittorio De Sica is deprived of his humorous vein, but all of them deserve a standing ovation in my opinion.
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Swings And Roundabouts
writers_reign15 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It's going to be difficult to discuss this film without sounding like an Academic manque' so if I start throwing in jargon like 'metonyme', 'diagenetic', 'mimentic', etc give me a solid nudge, flash me a snapshot of the Accatone and send me to bed without any supper. One of the reasons for an Academe feeding frenzy are the parallels with Ophuls earlier film La Ronde; both are circular and both feature a carousel-like progression; in La Ronde it is venereal disease that passes from one person to another in Madame D ... it is a pair of diamond heart earrings, given to her by her husband (Charles Boyer) on the day after her wedding, which, in order to settle some considerable debts incurred we know not how, Madame D ... (Danielle Darrieux) sells to a friendly jeweller. When she reports them stolen to account for their disappearance the case is reported in the press and the jeweller approaches Boyer, who buys them back and gives them to his own mistress who in turn sells them in Constantinople to cover her gambling debts. There they are bought by Dantoni (Vittoria de Sica) who meets Darrieux in Paris and embarks on an affair with her and, in the fullness of time, presents her with her own earrings. This is merely a frame on which to hang some stunning camera work and what is striking is the way that Ophuls keeps both his camera and the lovers continuously spinning around in three-quarter time. This is a sumptuous movie with timeless performances from the three principals, a feat of black and white photography and an undisputed French classic.
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I Don't Know
tikoodno28 May 2017
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.
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Good, but too restrained and over-constructed to be great
gbill-7487720 June 2017
As the earrings of the wife of a rich General circulate from hand to hand but always find a way back to her, it may seem like a silly plot device, and perhaps it is. However, it is interesting to watch Danielle Darrieux (the wife) lie to Charles Boyer (her husband) about how she's lost and then later found these earrings, which were a wedding present, and eventually to Vittorio De Sica (her lover) as well, without realizing that in each instance these men know they're being lied to. The restraint shown in their facial reactions is fantastic. All three turn in subtle and nuanced performances, and the movie as a whole captures the grace of the 19th century with several ballroom scenes. Director Max Ophüls shows restraint as well, as the progress of the affair is shown during commentary and the pair dancing over many late evenings. This is a good film to be sure, but I don't think it lives up to its reputation, which has grown over the years. The passion is a bit too far beneath the surface for my taste, and the plot reminds one of 19th century fiction, which had a tendency to be over-constructed.
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"It is only superficially that it is superficial"
Teyss6 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
At one point, André tells Louise about their couple: "It is only superficially that it is superficial." The same could be said about the movie. Initially, it is essentially seducing, glittering with stylish settings, elegant images, finely crafted dialogues and charming characters. It feels like a precise mechanism, paced by the movement of the earrings going from one hand to another, regularly coming back to the same persons (Louise possesses them four times, André and the jeweller each three times and Fabrizio twice). There is something comical about this movement, notably when André bewilderedly discovers them the second time.


But progressively, the smooth surface cracks open, revealing an outbreak of passions and eventually tragedy. Frequent mirrors already indicate we are seeing an artificial environment that is about to give way.

Louise falls madly in love then becomes gravely ill, André loses control, Fabrizio switches from love to disdain, there is a duel. The futile movement of the earrings becomes increasingly dramatic: Louise sadly gives them to her niece; they trigger the separation between Louise and Fabrizio; she ruins herself to buy them back; she donates them to a church to avoid a disaster, that seems inevitable anyhow. These earrings are more than a McGuffin opening and closing the movie: they illustrate its evolution from a bright to a dark tone.

We build up certitudes during the first part of the movie, and they slowly fall apart.

  • Louise first appears as a lovely, mundane, frivolous, deceitful lady, only absorbed in fancy clothing, jewellery, parties and dances. Yet we start feeling sorry for her because she is suffocating in her couple: symbolically, all scenes with her husband occur inside, while in exterior scenes she is alone or with Fabrizio. We then understand she is capable of boundless love: she becomes ill when she realises Fabrizio is turning away from her, she humbles herself in front of him. In a compelling shot, contrasting with her previous gorgeous images, she appears before him exhausted, in plain clothing, without jewels.

  • André first does not seem to love Louise deeply: he is chiefly preoccupied by social conventions and appearances. However he finally admits he did everything for her: "To please you, I forced myself to play a role I do not like." He is hurt when he sees her devastated by love: he loses his temper and provokes a duel that will make him either a criminal or a dead man. This apparently dominating and arrogant character is actually touching.

  • Fabrizio first looks like a superficial Italian seducer, only attracted by Louise's looks. Yet he genuinely gets to love her. He is hurt when he understands she lies to him. His resulting disappointment and sorrow are so intense he is willing to die: when André asks for a duel, he is not surprised or frightened. He calmly refuses to apologise, knowing he will probably be killed since André is more experienced.


Aesthetically, form evolves to reflect the downfall of the atmosphere and the characters. At the beginning, the movie is poised, with slow, long, fluid shots. Towards the end, the rhythm accelerates: shots are shorter, they lose control for instance by showing Louise in church with an inclined image. Then the movie ends brutally, without revealing the outcome of the duel (Fabrizio could just be wounded) and Louise's probable death (which is not certain). After an abrupt ellipse, it confusingly closes on a shot of the earrings in the empty church. The precise mechanism has jammed.

To emphasise the contrast between the first and the last part of the movie, Ophüls associates events that occur once in a light mode, once in a dark mode: the seeds of tragedy are sown from the start. A few examples, on top of the earrings mentioned above:
  • At the beginning, Louise prays in church for a futile motive (she wants the jeweller to accept the earrings). At the end, she prays again in church for a more dramatic reason: she wants Fabrizio to survive the duel.
  • At the opera, a friend tells André someone demands an apology because he stared at his wife: potentially this could turn into a duel, but André wittingly avoids the trap. At the end, André calls for a duel with Fabrizio precisely because he seduced his wife (although the official reason is different) and precisely asks the same friend to be his witness.
  • At the dinner, Louise and Fabrizio sitting next to each other speak two different languages to other persons. This announces their future misunderstandings.
  • During the hunt, Louise faints when she sees Fabrizio falling off his horse. Nothing serious: Fabrizio is safe and André jokes about his wife's ability to faint. At the end, Louise collapses again, but it is much more dramatic: Fabrizio was possibly killed, and she will probably die.
  • At the club, André and Fabrizio argue politely while two swordsmen practice in the background. No harm done, yet these two fake duels announce the real one at the end.
  • Louise repeats to Fabrizio "I don't love you", to express the opposite. This announces their future separation.

Fundamentally, "Madame de" is a tragic story about relationships destroyed by miscommunication: Louise and André could have been happy if each had not played a role drifting them apart; Louise's and Fabrizio's passion could have lasted if she had been sincere to him and to herself. The tragedy is all the more gripping as the movie starts in a light, delightful mode.

A last note: the movie is based on the short novel by Louise de Vilmorin written two years earlier. The movie roughly follows the same plot, also ending with Louise's death, although it sometimes diverges: notably, there is no duel in the novel. Regardless, the movie gives an altogether superior dimension to the story by magnificently illustrating the dramatic evolution.
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The images, the images, the images...
flasuss30 August 2005
Unlike Letter From an Unknown Woman, the only other film by Ophuls that i have seen, this one doesn't have much emotion, and it's harder to like the characters (for me, at least). Probably because of that, the title character is not as interesting as she could be; the men, whoever, are, probably more due to the great performances by Charles Boyer and the maverick director Vittorio de Sica. But any problems are forgivable due to the irreproachable costumes and art direction, the marvelous cinematography, and the very elaborate and rich camera work. It's the most beautiful film to look at that i have seen in a long time. Stanley Kubrick (like he said himself) owns much of his visual style to the German filmmaker. It's one of those unforgettable films, not because of the performers, or the plot, or the message, but the images; Vittorio de Sica and Danielle Darrieux dancing elegantly through the nights of Paris is one of the most remarkable moments in the history of cinema.
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Opulent Soap
kenjha28 December 2010
A Parisian countess pawns her precious earrings and lies to her husband that she lost it. The film looks and sounds beautiful, with its opulent cinematography and romantic score. Ophuls' fluid camera work is quite impressive, but he is let down by a routine script that runs out of steam long before the final credits roll. The acting by Darrieux, Boyer, and De Sica is good, although the characters are not particularly well developed. After starting out as a light romantic drama, the film's tone turns rather serious. In fact, it turns into something of a dreary soap opera featuring a tragic love triangle. The contrived ending does not help matters.
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claudecat5 November 2006
I tried to watch this movie on VHS years ago, but found it too boring to get through. I decided to give it another chance in a real theater, because I'd heard that it's such a classic. It definitely improved on the big screen (well, not that big), but the good things about the movie are undercut by the unsatisfactory story. The film starts out like a biting social comedy, on the order of "La Ronde", but strangely changes tone partway through, turning much darker. But because of the light opening, the characters are not three-dimensional enough to support a serious story. The actors, especially Darrieux, are good enough that they almost make it work, but they needed a better script. The abrupt, unexplained ending was especially frustrating to me.

The film is beautifully shot, but the camera-work was a little too hyper for me in places--a dance sequence made me literally dizzy. (Probably most people wouldn't have a problem with that.) Also, the rich, somewhat claustrophobic production design showed a few too many 1950's influences for my taste.

On the positive side, I admired the way Ophuls created (on the surface) a believable world of the rich, and yet had an awareness of the poorer people that surrounded it. That was something I did not expect.
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A Sumptuous and Sad Film
evanston_dad20 March 2017
A soft and elegant film that subtly captures the feelings involved in a marriage that is slowly dying before its partners' eyes.

What I found most remarkable about "The Earrings of Madame de..." was the fact that it made me actually care about the people in it. These are rich, privileged aristocrats who live in a rarefied, pampered world. They might as well live on a different planet as far as the majority of nearly everyone else is concerned. Who cares if their marriage isn't a good one, or that they're bored, or discontent? Let their money and servants console them.

But that isn't how I felt watching the film. I think Max Ophuls even wants his audience to feel that way at first so that he can upend their expectations. After all, he doesn't even give his heroine a name -- she's simply a stand in for hundreds of other women feeling the same things and contending with the same emotions. But by the end of this film, my heart went out to this individual woman, and I was nearly breathless with the anticipation of seeing how her story would end.

The film looks sumptuous, with lush black and white art direction and Oscar-nominated costumes.

Grade: A
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Does not live up to all the praise.
ags12330 March 2009
I hate to burst everyone's bubble here, but this film left me cold as ice. The main character, Madame de, is vacuous and unlikable. Right from the beginning, when she lies about losing the earrings, she loses all sympathy. Her passion for the Baron is unconvincing - she seems as bored with him as she is with her husband. Unfortunately, her boredom becomes ours as well. I expected a story with some deep, emotional resonance but instead, felt removed from the characters and their situation. The plot is contrived and the ending is rather anticlimactic. Yes, the costumes and camera work are lovely, but they wear thin long before the film ends. Overall, "Madame de…" is a disappointing viewing experience.
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Art, not an essay by William Bennett
WinterMaiden14 September 2009
There is little of praise I can add to what others have said. I would like to address the comments of those who don't like the film because they find Louise unworthy of their admiration or sympathy. (There are two threads on the board that raise the same objection, and one quotes a review that calls her a "dick.")

Do you feel sympathy for Humbert Humbert? Or for Emma Bovary? Or for Anna Karenina? Or for the Vicomte de Valmont?

People are certainly free not to like the directing style of Max Ophuls or the performance styles of his actors. But in the negative reactions to this film, and especially to the character of Louise, I detect a strong whiff of anachronistic response, and an inability to see the film in the context of its time and place, not to mention the characters in the context of their society. It also seems to me that many people have a sort of high school notion that you have to find a character admirable in order to feel sorry for her. Or, for that matter, that you have to feel sympathy for a character in order to be moved by her story.

The irony of "Madame de. . ." is that it turns out that the character with the deepest and most constant emotions is the General, who has concealed the depth of his feelings for Louise because it is not the fashion to be in love with one's own wife. He follows the rules; he has mistresses; he doesn't mind Louise's lovers too much as long she too follows the rules. He can't handle it when she strays outside the lines, and it is HIS behavior, not hers, that finally ruins them all.

The art of "Madame de..." is that the lush setting and sense of a society that lives on ersatz emotion prepares us to be caught up in the ecstasy of Louise's immolation as the emotions become real. That doesn't mean that the Baron is really the Romeo to her Juliet, or that (artistically speaking) he needs to be. In her review of "The Story of Adèle H.," Pauline Kael comments on what a pathetically inadequate object of obsession Lt. Pinson constitutes. Indeed, late in the film, when Adèle passes him on the street, she doesn't even notice him. The Baron is also a rather bland love object, and it is true that we have little sense of how far their affair has progressed, or if he would even want Louise to leave her husband for him. (That is not, after all, how the game is played.) In the Garbo "Camille," Robert Taylor's Armand is utterly unworthy of her, and I've never seen a version of "Anna Karenina" where the Vronsky seemed worth ruining oneself over--or who, for that matter, really seemed to WANT Anna to leave her husband for him.

Louise's tragedy is that her understanding of the game, of which she is a typically petty and only somewhat skilled player (she has, after all, already skirted the edge of ruin by falling deeply into debt), does not prepare her for actual love. Once there she tries to behave well, but events spiral out of the control of all the characters once they are outside of the predictable game. We don't even have to see a redemption in the completeness with which she gives herself up to her love, or her making herself ill over it; her behavior is by and large selfish and unconcerned with the feelings of anyone other than herself. If not a redemption she does have a kind of saving grace: she doesn't ask for pity or understanding (although she does ask for forgiveness), and she does achieve a kind of understanding of herself when she admits near the end that she is hopelessly vain.

What makes "Madame de. . ." a great film, though, is how we see the General, Louise, and even the bland Baron become human as they step outside the rules of the game, and the way in which the art of Ophuls prepares us for the exaltation of Louise's destruction. You don't have to pity her to be moved by the emotion of it. You may even find a dreadful comedy in it, as one does with Humbert. Humbert knows how unworthy he is as a figure of tragedy; Valmont realizes with a bitter sense of irony that he has destroyed himself with his own clever pettiness. Louise lacks those levels of insight, as well as their degree of villainy, but her lack of credentials to be a great heroine is itself moving. At the end, when she finally destroys herself, it seems to be, at last, in her first more-or-less-selfless gesture-- ambiguous, though, as everything in Ophuls is.

Perhaps Renoir (the allusion to him above being deliberate) could have made these characters more sympathetic, or made us feel more tenderness for unsympathetic characters. (Renoir could make us feel tenderness for a rock.) But Ophuls is not as purely focused on the human heart as Renoir; he always sees the absurd social animal, as well. I think it is more appropriate with Ophuls to have that distancing, as we have when we read "Madame Bovary."
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Fate Works To No Purpose. Torture Through Hope.
jzappa8 September 2009
A leisurely film because nothing is treated like a more important attribute of a character than anything else, this is nonetheless one of the most affected and elaborate love movies ever filmed. It sparkles and glints, and underneath the finesse it fashions a heart, and shatters it. This French-Italian romance by influential German-born Max Ophuls is known for its complex cinematography, its flowing technique, its sets, its costumes and naturally its jewelry. It stars Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica, who with no trouble manifest cultivated charm because each player is so comfortable in their own skin. It could have been a pretentious gratuity. We watch with great respect for Ophuls' aesthetic fanfare, so fluent and sophisticated. Then to our bewilderment we find ourselves emotionally invested.

The story takes place in Vienna a century or so ago. Boyer's General has married belatedly, and luckily, to Darrieux's Madame, an absolute Venus. He gives her exorbitant diamond earrings as a wedding present. As the film opens, Madame is dangerously tapped out, and searching among her accessories for something to sell. The camera follows her in an continuous shot as she looks through dresses, furs, jewelry, and ultimately rests on the earrings, which she never liked anyway. ''What will you tell your husband?'' asks her hireling. She will tell him that she lost them.

Standing back slightly from the comings and goings of the earrings, which is the material of sitcom, the movie begins to look more persistently at Madame de... She and her husband live in a time and place where love affairs are pretty much anticipated. "Your suitors get on my nerves," the General carps as they leave a party. If they do not know in particular who their spouse is flirting with, they know in broad terms. Yet there is a discipline in such situations, and it allows fooling around but not love.

Smooth, graceful tracking shots occupy every job of the camera, a stationary transience much like the journey of the material luxury and its seemingly vain covetors. The scene where they fall in love exhibits Ophuls' top form. He likes to display his characters encompassed by, even asphyxiating in, their mood. Interiors are crammed with material furnishings. Their bodies are ornamented with gowns, uniforms, jewelry, decorations. Ophuls likes to shoot past a frontal focus, or through a window, to show a characters enclosed by paraphernalia. But in the decisive romantic scene, a mosaic comprising various nights of dancing, the embracing couple is eventually left all alone after such subtle and simple time lapses.

As can be expected from bored affluent socialites, the simplest thing becomes a mystery, and leisurely dialogue becomes not about what's spoken, but what is not spoken, or said instead. Hence, "Madame de..." Though there are a few overdone lines which serve more as aphorisms than natural emotional instigations. Ultimately, the film's about the various emotions that can be truly stimulated by material possessions, not just lust for the possession itself.

At the crux of this most annoying titled movie is the idea that the worth of the earrings alters in connection with their connotation. At the start, Madame just needs to hustle them. Then, when they are a gift from her lover, they become priceless. An extravagant knickknack, meant to signify adoration, turns out to be an irritation and a hazard when it actually does. It's a great idea.
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The Clever and the Beautiful
vostf4 December 2002
Madame de… is a beautiful movie about love, happiness and social constraints. Well, these scattered words don't account for all Madame de… is. Louise de... don't really need a deep analysis. She has a social tenure, a light and resigned posture and the camera loves to follow her. I'd say the camera work in Madame de… accounts for more than the 2/3 of the result. The rest lies with the acting. Needless to say this could have been a silent movie, with high-brow titles yet.

I think Kubrick must have appreciated this movie, for the camera work -ok, but also for the fight of life and intelligence. Love and happiness are life; intelligence has nothing to do with these. But it can help to fill the holes. You don't chose the parts of love, happiness or intelligence. That's only the way real life goes; movies are just more or less intelligent pictures.

Now I understand why the movie critics love Madame de... They love to feel they are intelligent. There are good reasons to love this film: simply put it's about a love story and human intercourse. As for me intelligence shows up a little too often. I don't love you, Madame de…

Personal recommendation: if you liked this one try the more modern Raphaël ou le débauché (1971)
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Plus belle que jamais
antcol81 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers

The inexorable movement - of life.

Why talk about "camera movements" - tracks, dollies, cranes - at all, if we're not going to talk about what they DO - what they MEAN.

Anybody with enough money can fill their film with dolly shots.

The Dance...

Of life

Of death

Trains. Balls and trains.

The circularity of a "white lie"

The elegance of an elegant ensemble each bringing their own life story to bear on the way they inhabit (and do they!) their roles. You don't need to know anything about this, but the more you know the deeper the film gets.

Maybe the key line is when Boyer says to Darrieux "Our relationship is only superficially superficial".

Those who need to "identify" with the characters in a film, and thus find that the social position of these characters makes engagement with this film impossible...Well, I just feel sorry for you. Really.

I think another read through of a concise cinema book - maybe Sarris' American Cinema - is in order.What does he write about Ophuls? "His elegant characters lack nothing and lose everything."


But besides all that...

Composition and the clarity of the arc. Underneath all of the gliding and circularity, an unstoppable forward motion. Carried through and fulfilled like in very,very few films. The word "Masterpiece" - unfortunate word! - must be used.

One word to my fellow IMDb reviewers: I really think the word "boring" should carry the same onus as an unacknowledged spoiler. You are bored? Check yourself.

This review has nearly no content, but it is very hard to write anything about perfection.
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