Posted Dec 4, 2010 in Arts | 0 Comments

The Earrings of Madame de…

ph. Criterion

There are a few elements fighting against The Earrings of Madame de… that on paper wouldn’t make it the romance film than it is. First, the gossipy nature of the story, by not giving out the female protagonist Comtesse Louise’s (Danielle Darrieux) surname as well as her husband, a General (Charles Boyer). The lighter tone used to tell the story of how a pair of earrings exchanged hands in the film’s first 25 minutes might also misdirect some viewers. Secondly, there’s a desperation in Louise, although she isn’t alone in being desperate. The General buys back the earrings to give them to his mistress, who sells them. There’s also a named Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio de Sica) who chases after Louise. Their desperation contrasts the servants who tire of their masters’ frivolity in finding jewels and inflating infatuations. Connected with the desperation is the  frivolity and fetishism surrounding the diamond earrings she sells. However, director Max Ophuls manages to incorporate earnestness and humanity into the characters’ little troubles.

In this film, Ophuls depicts crumbling surfaces, despite the elegant gloss. Three of the women – the third being the General’s niece – who have owned the earrings sell them to pay off their debts. The more important surface, however, is Louise and Andre’s marriage. Both seem jovially passive about their open relationship, an accepted arrangement that seems common during Gilded Age of European aristocracy. He quizzes her about her suitors while she implicitly knows about  his mistress or two. The marriage doesn’t feel like a gilded cage, and Louise especially doesn’t act as if she feels it. Andre, nonetheless, still feels the pain of deception necessary in these arrangements. The saddest part of their marriage is the inevitability of events like the ones shown in the film, even if they had be married to other people.

Ophuls is well praised for his visual style and long tracking takes, like the film’s first scene that is confidently filmed in front of mirrors. There are other mirror scenes in the film to show the camera’s invisibility, a cinematic move reminiscent of Manet. I also noticed motifs, like characters depicted through screens to enhance the viewers’ perception of their actions. The film shows Andre’s mistress through the decorative bars between her and an unseen casino clerk, symbolizing that woman’s addiction. It shows Fabrizio’s silhouette through tinted windows of the train station, a more sincere note after a comic routine in finding and losing Louise for the first time. Louise, wearing a netted veil, is photographed through one of her bedpost screens, both marking her’s performance and elegant deception. At the same time, we also see her without any screens or veils. She goes in public without the earrings. Also, when we see her through the bedpost screen Andre sees her in her nightgown. She lies both with or without disguises and crutches, but it’s in her metaphoric nakedness without the earrings and towards Andre in her bed where her lies are more vulnerable for exposure.

Surprisingly, however, the return of the earrings to Louise’s hands doesn’t immediately cause her humiliation but actually awakens her desires. In the return of these jewels, the film shows the polarity of the power of objects coexisting with intangible romantic idealism. As Fabrizio returns the jewels to her as a gift, she cherishes both of them and believes that both of them are in her life because of fate, an idea she previously toyed around with in front of him for flirtation’s sake. She holds on to both the earrings and her love despite of her husband catching up to her.

Boyer seems more comfortable here acting in French than he does in English language movies, being able to show both ruthlessness and pain. De Sica’s smile is infectious, convincing the audience that the one with the gray hair is better suited for the great beauty. Darrieux amazingly evinces elegance and heartbreak taking a psychological and physical toll. Others might think her character is a fool, but again, she treats the part with earnestness.

Paul Thomas Anderson introduces the film in the Criterion DVD. Scorsese does it better and more articulately, but Anderson does talk about the film’s devices to suspend disbelief and muses about 1950′s technical film making aspects.

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