Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Earrings of Madame de...

Based on the novel by Louise Leveque de Vilmorin, The Earrings of Madame de… is the story of a countess who sells her earrings to pay off some debts only to cause some trouble in her lavish yet empty lifestyle. Directed by Max Ophuls and screenplay by Ophuls, Marcel Archad, and Annette Wadement, the film is an exploration of the life of a woman as her lavish lifestyle starts to crumble as she also begins to question her own marriage. Starring Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, and Vittorio de Sica. The Earrings of Madame de… is a rich and evocative film from Max Ophuls.

Set in late 19th Century France, the film revolves around a pair of very expensive earrings where a countess tries to sell them off to pay some debts only to set off a chain of events that would trouble her once lavish lifestyle as well as what she wants in her own life. All of which would involve her dealing with a loveless marriage to a general as she falls for an Italian baron who would buy those earrings as it would add more trouble into a very complicated love triangle. It’s a film that plays into the ideas of a woman coping with the life she had as well as the earrings itself as they would be the cause of all sorts of trouble. The film’s screenplay explores the journey that these earrings would take as it would create a lot of these consequences that occur in the film. Especially in the life its countess whose first name is Louise (Danielle Darrieux) who lived a life of great wealth but it’s a shallow one that has her unaware of how loveless her marriage to Andre (Charles Boyer) is. Especially when Andre has a mistress who would take those earrings and later sell them playing to those chain of events.

It would then play into study of these three characters that would include the baron Donati (Vittorio de Sica) who is in the middle of this turmoil as he is just a good man that is in love with Louise. He would buy the earrings and later reveal the cracks in this marriage between Louise and Andre that is starting to show for these two. Especially as Louise would have her own realizations about her life and lifestyle where her affair with Donati would be more fulfilling but also an anguished affair because she is married as Andre is someone that has a lot of pull and can do some very terrifying things. Even as the affair is eventually discovered by Andre where his reaction is very unique for the fact that he kind of knew something was happening. All of which would lead to those earrings once again which is this interesting MacGuffin that really drives the story and the fate of these characters.

Max Ophuls’ direction is very exquisite in not just his approach to compositions but in also how to use the earrings as something more than just a plot device. Especially as there’s so much attention towards these earrings as they would be shifted from one character to another and then back to a character that previously owned these earrings. There’s a sense of precision and movement in Ophuls’ direction where his use of medium shots, close-ups, and tracking shots are truly hypnotic. Most notably a sequence where Donati and Louise would dance as the camera would swirl around to showcase the evolution of their relationship as they’re in different costumes as it is told with such style. 

Ophuls also creates these intense moments in the drama for the scenes where Louise and Donati are in the same room but they feel like they’re in different worlds due to the presence of Andre. Ophuls maintains an intimacy that can be very discomforting due to Andre’s presence as well as some wide shots as it relates to how detached he is from Louise. It would lead to this climax that is filled with a lot of ambiguities but also in how much damage these earrings have caused for these three people. Overall, Ophuls creates a very intoxicating and captivating film about a woman who sets off a chain of events that would lead to the unraveling of the lifestyle that she was once a part of.

Cinematographer Christian Matras does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to play into the elegance of the film‘s interior and exterior settings with its unique approach to lighting as well as setting moods for those lights. Editor Borys Lewin does excellent work with the editing with its stylish use of dissolves and rhythmic cuts as well as dance sequence with its montage-editing approach. Set designer Jean d’Eaubonne does fantastic work with the set pieces from the home that Andre and Louise lived in to the other places as it showcased its sense of extravagance and elegance.

Costume designers Georges Annenkov and Rosine Delamare do amazing work with the costumes from the look of the dresses that Louise wore to the suits and uniforms the men wear. The sound work of Antoine Petitjean is terrific for its approach to sparse sounds as well the way things are heard for dramatic effect. The film’s music by Oscar Straus and Georges van Parys is wonderful for its lush orchestral score that plays to the period of the times with its usage of piano-based music and operatic pieces as it plays to the romantic and dramatic tone of the film.

The film’s phenomenal cast include notable small performances from Lia Di Leo as Andre’s mistress Lola, Mirielle Perrey as Louise’s caretaker, Jean Galland as an associate of Andre, and Jean Debucourt as the jeweler Monsieur Remy. Vittorio de Sica is incredible as Baron Fabrizio Donati as this man who is an old friend of Andre as he falls for Louise as he also deals with the secrecy of their affair and Andre’s cruelty. Charles Boyer is marvelous as General Andre as this man who likes to keep things secret including his own extramarital affairs while he learns that his wife is lying as he tries to regain control of everything he has. Finally, there’s Danielle Darrieux in a radiant performance as Countess Louise as this woman whose life unravels all by the act of selling her earrings to settle some debts as Darrieux maintains a sense of elegance in her character despite the trials and tribulations she would have as it’s an iconic performance from Darrieux.

The Earrings of Madame de… is an astoundingly enchanting film from Max Ophuls. Armed with a great cast and a compelling premise, it’s a film that is definitely rich in its images but also in the way it explores a world that is changing as well as attitudes and behaviors. In the end, The Earrings of Madame de… is an exquisitely sensational film from Max Ophuls.

Max Ophuls Films: (The Bartered Bride) - (The Merry Heirs) - (Liebelei) - (A Love Story (1933 film)) - (Everybody’s Woman) - (The Tender Enemy) - (The Trouble with Money) - (Yoshiwara) - (The Novel of Werther) - (Sarajevo (1940 film)) - (The Exile) - (Letter from an Unknown Woman) - (Caught (1949 film)) - (The Reckless Moment) - La Ronde (1950 film) - Le Plaisir - Lola Montes - (The Lovers of Montparnasse)

© thevoid99 2015


joel65913 said...

I watched this for the first time this week when they ran it on TCM and thought it excellent. I'm not a huge foreign film viewer so it helped that I was familiar with all three stars other work, I was able to connect to their characters more quickly.

If you haven't seen it you'd probably enjoy the director's Letter From An Unknown Woman, it's beautifully shot and full of repressed longing.

thevoid99 said...

Cool. I'm hoping to see more of Ophuls work that isn't from his Hollywood period which I heard wasn't good.

keith71_98 said...

Great, great, great review. I have this sitting pretty on my DVR. Can't wait to get to it SOON.

joel65913 said...

Well Unknown Woman is from that period but it was well regarded at the time and still is now, Joan Fontaine's performance is considered one of her best.

I've seen a couple of others from that period. Caught is okay, it drags a little but has a great cast and lots of style.

The other The Reckless Moment is my favorite of the three. It's got an interesting tense story, one of Joan Bennett's best performances and one of James Mason's too. It was reworked in 2001 and remade as The Deep End with Tilda Swinton which is an a decent film as well.

joel65913 said...

Unknown Woman is from his years in Hollywood and was well regarded than and still is, Joan Fontaine's performance is considered one of her best.

I've seen a couple of his other films from that period as well. Caught drags a little at times but has great atmosphere and a terrific cast. However my favorite of the three is The Reckless Moment. It's a tense drama, interestingly shot with both James Mason and especially Joan Bennett at the top of their game. The story was reworked and remade with Tilda Swinton in 2001 as The Deep End which is also worth seeing.

Sorry if this is a repeat I posted a comment a bit ago and it vanished when I hit post.

Ruth said...

I kind of like the premise of this one. Never heard of this filmmaker so that's another reason to check it out. Thanks Steven, I always learn something new every time I visit your blog :)

thevoid99 said...

@keith 71_98-See it as soon as possible.

@joel65913-OK, I'll add that film to my list as I hope to do more Ophuls in the future.

@ruth-I don't know much about Ophuls either as it's my first film by the director that I saw. I hope to do more as it recently was played on TCM. That's why I love that channel.

Anonymous said...

OMG, seeing this sitting on my blog feed was so exciting for me...I had to hold myself back from reading it until today, because I wanted to include it in my link post.

I'm so happy you loved this, and highlighted it. Such a masterful film, and one that I honestly consider to be utterly perfect in every way.

One of my all time (like top ten/fifteen) favorite films!

thevoid99 said...

@Fisti-It was better than I thought it would be. A true classic. I need to get the Criterion DVD.