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The Earrings of Madame de...: BD Review

Jul 31st, 2013

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Max Ophuls' transcendent French classic comes to Blu-ray with opulent aplomb....

Criterion / 100 Minutes / 1953 / Unrated / Street Date: August 6, 2013

I’m trying to think of a way to phrase my sentiments for The Earrings of Madame de… without sounding like a complete cinephilic boob, but I’m having trouble. So here it goes: The Earrings of Madame de… is the cinematic equivalent of a very expensive, perfectly chilled glass of champagne.

Yeah, I know – start throwing tomatoes.

But I stand by my words – there is nothing like this Max Ophuls film in the annals of cinema. It may not be wildly adventurous from a narrative standpoint – the film really could be boiled down to being a simple star-crossed romance. But the execution of this marvelous motion picture blasts into the stratosphere from its very first shot and never returns to the ground.

Molly Haskell talks about the film’s charms in her essay (included in this wonderful Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition): “For those of us who rank The Earrings of Madame de… at the top of our list of all-time favorite films, the mystery is why our passion isn’t universally shared.” This writer hadn’t seen the film since college, but upon enjoying the film on this new high-def release, there really was a sense of ‘wow – this is how it’s done’ that washed over me. Again, it may not have the meat of a more serious drama, which is why my aforementioned flimsy champagne metaphor works perfectly.

The film’s story is straightforward and easy to latch onto: A spoiled woman of class, Madame de… (Danielle Darrieux) decides to sell the earrings her General husband (Charles Boyer) purchased for her on their wedding day to pay for some old debts, then starts up a lie with her hubby that she ‘lost’ them at the opera. And as anyone who’s ever watched a movie knows, most of the time when a lie is really brought into a film’s narrative, it doesn’t go away. So without giving too much away, let’s just say that Madame de… doesn’t know that the General buys the earrings back from the guy Madame de… sold them to only to give them to his mistress. The earrings then take a journey that involves international travel, tons of dramatic irony, and the handsome savvy of Vittorio de Sica, who enters Madame de…’s world and subsequently rocks the crap out of it.

Yet while it’s this romance that drives Madame de… on the story front, the real MVP of the film is Ophuls’ camera. People look at Scorsese films and discuss the wonders and magic of his camera movement – and he often utilizes it quite well (don’t get me wrong…) – but there’s an organic quality to Madame de…’s visual construction that, again, has the effect of a bubbly, euphoric champagne buzz. When Madame de… and de Sica dance the night away, there are mind-blowingly few cuts – Ophuls simply lets his camera follow the two around, figuratively joining into a dance alongside them.

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