Directed by Max Ophuls
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 100 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: September 16, 2008
Review Date: September 9, 2008
Max Ophuls’ tragic melodrama of three unhappy souls involved in a hopeless love triangle bitterly sighs on the screen as The Earrings of Madame de… Mournful and yet with moments of real twinkle and spirit, The Earrings of Madame de… shows one of France’s master craftsmen near his zenith in his penultimate film offering.
Comtesse Louise de… (Danielle Darrieux) is a spoiled, frivolous woman who sells an expensive pair of earrings (a wedding gift from her husband) back to the jeweler who crafted them in order to get money to pay some crushing debts she’s rung up with her extravagance. Unknown to her, the jeweler brings the earrings to the attention of the husband (Charles Boyer) who buys them back and gives them to his mistress (Lia Di Leo). She in turn pawns them for gambling money, and they’re then bought by Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio De Sica) who begins a clandestine affair with Comtesse Louise and eventually presents the earrings as a gift to her! That isn’t the end of the journey for those wonderful jewels, but it’s all it takes for secrets to be revealed and lives brought to the breaking point.
Ophuls’ camerawork in this film is some of the busiest and most involving in almost any movie of that period. It quickly establishes the superficial lavishness and vanity of Louise as it pours over her jewels, clothes, and furs in the film’s opening shots, and goes on from there to punctuate the rapid rise and fall of the love affair amid the hurried comings and goings of many of the film‘s participants. Two other sequences involving that masterful camerawork stand out: a wonderfully creative montage of waltzes between Louise and Fabrizio as their love blossoms over time and an incredibly evocative shot of a torn love letter hurled out of the window of a moving train melding into dropping snowflakes on the countryside. Added to that is the lilting music of Oscar Straus and Georges van Parys which mirrors both the joys and heartbreaks contained in the picture.
The three leading characters are played with startling grace and élan. Charles Boyer is reserved and in control as the cuckolded general, ironic in his passionless rage about his wife’s affair even though he has a mistress of his own. Danielle Darrieux is likewise cool rather than shamelessly ardent and desperate as the blossoms of her affair begin to wither in front of her eyes. Vittorio De Sica, as well known as an actor in many films as he is a director, has looks and charm to spare as the eager baron. Credit goes to all three actors for not forcing purple passions on these roles but rather conducting themselves with the decorum appropriate for their upper class stations. Jean Debucourt as the sycophantic jeweler elicits a fair quota of laughs as he strives to make every franc possible from this one pair of earrings.
Previous love triangles such as those found in Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina easily come to mind as one watches in this movie the lovers struggle in their own sticky webs of deceit. The Earrings of Madame de… may not quite reach the heights and depths of tragic inevitability of those other masterpieces, but in its own smaller way, it can match them in viewer involvement and in ultimate effect.
The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is reproduced here in a faithful video transfer slightly windowboxed in Criterion’s customary style. Contrast seems just a might lacking in the image, though for the most part, sharpness is very fine and the grayscale is solid if less than spectacular, There are a couple of light white scratches and a hair to mar the image quickly, but otherwise, the picture is surprisingly clean and free of artifacts. The white subtitles are easy to read but sometimes pass by quickly. The film has been divided into 21 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound has a bit of low level hiss noticeable in the quieter passages of the movie, and overall the sound is a bit lacking in low end dynamics giving dialog a bit of a hollow ring on occasion.
The film has a 14 ½-minute introduction by director Paul Thomas Anderson. Like many introductions included on Criterion discs, it’s filled with spoilers if one hasn't viewed the film before, so save his appreciation for after the film if you’ve never seen it.
The audio commentary for the film is provided by film scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar. It’s a lively discussion of the film, and while there is occasionally more description of on-screen events than there should be, it’s always followed by a literate analysis of the techniques on display and the symbolic meanings of what’s on the screen.
There are three interviews with production personnel from the film: assistant directors Alain Jessua (25 ¼ minutes filmed in 2005) and Marc Frédérix (8 minutes filmed in 1989) and co-screenwriter Annette Wademant (6 ½ minutes filmed in 1989). All are in 4:3.
Film historian Tag Gallagher offers a video analysis of several significant sequences in the film including a series of montages, an examination on the voids of space and time that Ophuls used, and a comparison of this film to other Ophuls’ works. Though interesting, the speaker is a tad dry and halting in his delivery. It runs 17 minutes.
Original novelist of Madame de… Louise de Vilmorin spends 5 minutes basically trashing what Ophuls did with her novel on the screen. The interview was filmed in 1965, but it’s unusual to find someone so negative about one of the world’s most celebrated films.
The enclosed 76-page booklet contains a rich selection of stills from the movie, a celebration of its greatness by critic Molly Haskell, costume designer Georges Annenkov's lovely remembrances of working on the film, and the original Louise de Vilmorin story on which the film is based.
Another of the gems from the latter part of the career of the great filmmaker Max Ophuls, The Earrings of Madame de… comes highly recommended.