The 12 Classics for 2016/ Blind Spot project is aimed at getting movie bloggers to broaden viewing horizons and catch up with well-regarded essentials of cinema.
The Earrings of Madame De… (1953, aka Madame de…) is a tragic romance directed by Max Ophuls. I recently watched and very much liked his Caught (1949) and The Reckless Moment (1949), as well as Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), and after this movie, I look forward to watching many more of his films. This film glides along elegantly, as carefully and tastefully put together as its key players, who work hard (but make it look so easy) to create facades and illusions, keep up appearances and adhere to the manners and motions of their class. That’s all possible, even fun, so long as they do it without emotional involvement, but tragedy comes when real love and deep resentment intrude and disrupt their composed lives and images.
Louise (Danielle Darrieux) is the younger, magnificent wife of General Andre de… (Charles Boyer). As the movie opens, she’s trying to decide which one of his expensive gifts she can pawn off to pay her debts. She picks out some earrings she doesn’t like, takes them to the jeweler, and lies to her husband that she lost them. After a minor scandal arising from the earrings being reported stolen, the jeweler explains the truth to the General, who buys the gems back and gifts them to his departing mistress. She gambles them away in Constantinople, where they are bought by a charming diplomat, Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica) who happens to work with the General, and becomes involved with Louise. Louise is shocked when Donati gifts her those same earrings, which become symbols of their fated romance, and take on added meaning with each passing month as Louise seeks refuge from her loveless marriage and falls deeper in love with Donati. Her deceptions and casual affairs, even the routine of buying back the earrings from the jeweler, all amused the General when they were frivolous matters, but once it’s clear that Louise has stepped outside the bounds of etiquette and truly loves Donati, those earrings become precious and sacred to her, hated by the shamed General, and disowned, along with the entire affair, by the cool image-conscious Donati.
This is a gorgeous film that engrosses with a graceful flow and understated acting, all befitting the characters’ roles and constraints and allowing the smallest show of passion or loss of control to stand out as memorable anomalies. Among the many affecting visuals: the montage of many weeks’ worth of waltz scenes in which Louise and Donati grow close in full public view, their reunion in a carriage, the General nonchalantly searching for the “lost” earrings at the opera, the comical reactions of the servants in every setting, and Louise tearing up love letters and flinging them out the window, where the bits of paper morph into a snow flurry. Louise suffers from a heart ailment, and uses that to milk sympathy and stage dramatic fainting spells as needed, but once she grows lovesick her heart truly hurts, she fades and ages, loses her poise and will for performance. A duel between her husband and lover, settled by a single gunshot, is too much for her to bear. All that remains are those once-disposable earrings, in their new home, attached proudly and forever to Madame de… and symbolic of her unfullfilled life, painful loss and brief love.
This post is part of the Blind Spot Series hosted by Ryan McNeil of The Matinee.