Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, Vittorio De Sica, Jean Debucourt, Jean Galland, Mireille Perrey, Paul Aza�s, Josselin, Hubert No�l, Lia Di Leo
Written by: Marcel Achard, Max Oph�ls, Annette Wademant, Marcel Achard, based on a novel by Louise de Vilmorin
Directed by: Max Oph�ls
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 09/16/1953

The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Bauble Heads

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The German-born Max Ophuls made films in five different languages over the course of his career, but he found his stride during his final, French period. The black-and-white The Earrings of Madame de... is of a piece with its predecessors, La Ronde (1950) and Le Plaisir (1952), but most consider it the best of the three. It still has Ophuls' skillful lightness and many amusing little moments -- it's far from somber -- but this film comes with its own unique emotional weight, mainly stemming from the middle-aged characters.

The title character, sometimes called "Louise" (Danielle Darrieux), sells her beloved diamond earrings, a gift from her husband. As with La Ronde, the diamonds travel a circular route throughout the narrative, slipping in and out of the hands of several characters. Louise's husband, a general (Charles Boyer), gives the earrings to his lover, and they wind up with an Italian diplomat (the film director Vittorio De Sica), who begins an affair with Louise.

Unlike La Ronde, which keeps a sense of whimsy throughout, Ophuls here allows the tragic implications of all this careless, clandestine behavior to eventually seep in. It's powerful stuff, but Ophuls' graceful, gliding camera movements provide a sense of beautiful inevitability. The film received a single Oscar nomination, for Best Costume Design.

The Criterion Collection released a 2013 Blu-ray version of their 2008 DVD release. I've read some criticisms of the disc's digital correction, and they're valid. The picture can look a bit waxy, but it's still very watchable. Extras include a commentary track with film scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar, an introduction by filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, interviews with various Ophuls collaborators, a visual analysis of the movie by film scholar Tag Gallagher, and an interview with novelist Louise de Vilmorin. A liner notes booklet includes an essay by film critic Molly Haskell, an excerpt from a book on Ophuls, and the original 78-page source novella.

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