(This is a reprint of a film appreciation posted in cinebuff.wordpress.com.b)
In one of the three Guy de Maupassant–derived stories of Ophuls’s Le plaisir (1952), the rejected model jumps out of a window and winds up in a wheelchair. The artist, now forcibly married to her, and with plenty of time to work, voices the bitter aphorism, “There’s no joy in happiness.” In the present film Danielle Darrieux invites unhappiness since it is the only way she can feel the pulse of her innermost universe where the heart rules. In Ophulsian universe, men and women occupy separate but equal spheres, and if the men have more power and agency in the world, the women are the conquistadors in the more important realm of the heart. They are the ‘militarists of love’ as Stendhal would call them. For the general’s wife in the Earrings of Madame de… a piece of jewelry serves as nicely as one marries above one’s rank to be reckoned as a woman of importance. Louise is married and she has a lover. ‘Loss’ of her earrings presented to her by her husband could set in motion, events of such import as a kingdom lost at the throw of a dice. Such a personal article ( a trifle in itself) could as the kerchief of Desdemona lead to death in some cases or social disgrace. Louisa belongs to the rank and file of the militarists of love who gamble with trouble, knowing tragedy is around the corner. Why do they still do it? I recall a passage where Stendhal (Red and the Black) quotes the case of Margaret du Valois, the wife of Henri IV. She needed such dangers in order to feel her existence. Not having anxiety was as being in a limbo, out of the pale of social respectability her station and rank commanded.
The Earrings of Madame de . . . is based on a 1951 novel by Louise de Vilmorin simply called Madame de, who, in pawning the earrings given her by her husband, sets off a chain of circumstances that, when she falls desperately in love, tightens around her and destroys her. It’s like a brooch, small in scope but filigreed and chiseled masterly as the works of Ophuls often are. The film has a special sheen brought out by incisive wit, irony and understanding. His films are all a treat to watch. It is all on the surface like light caught and the many facets of the stone keep you attentive to what goes on beneath. ”Madame de…” is one and his ”La Ronde” (1950) and ”Lola Montes” (1955) are similarly masterly. Take for instance the scene where he makes Baron Fabrizio Donati writing his lover day after day, with no letter back. Of course Louise frail in health and unable to stay in Paris tears up his letters and throw them out of her train carriage all the more despondent. She must play her part as demanded of her. In her thoughts,-her tears and unhappiness on reading them were as good as replies to them. ‘ I’ve answered all your letters my love,”says she. She lacked the courage to reply in any other manner. Louise is married to a general. Their marriage has style but no substance. In fact as the general observes it is superficially superficial. In the same context he sententiously adds, – it is his way of serious conversation, ‘our conjugal bliss is a reflection of ourselves’.
The way she views her earrings is a clear indication of her feelings with regards to marriage. The diamonds, a gift of her husband she doesn’t mind selling since her debts that necessited it, are part of household expenses. She has run up debts in keeping her station in the society while the gift coming from Baron Donati is from desire. She makes it clear in her tryst in his carriage that she will always keeps them by her bedside. That is what love means to her. In the end when she presents the gift to the Church its significance cannot be lost on the viewer.
The diamond earrings like RL Stevenson’s Bottle Imp turns up often to expose their shallowness as a couple and it echoes Renoir’s La Regle du Jeu: marriage as an institution in the pre WWI France meant for the privileged precious little no more than parading their good breeding and privileges. In this film also disaster follows the woman who makes a false step. Louise will lie to cover the absence of her earrings that makes her lover take offense first and then lead to a duel between two persons who mean most to her. All this will make the viewer agree with the general who quotes Napoleon,”The only victory in love is to flee”.
‘The Earrings of Madame de…,’ directed in 1953 by Max Ophuls, is one of the most mannered and contrived love movies ever filmed. It glitters and dazzles, and beneath the artifice it creates a heart, and breaks it. The film is famous for its elaborate camera movements, its graceful style, its sets, its costumes and of course its jewelry. It stars Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica, who effortlessly embody elegance. It could have been a mannered trifle. We sit in admiration of Ophuls’ visual display, so fluid and intricate. Then to our surprise we find ourselves caring’.( Roger Ebert-2001)
ack: Press Notes: Ophuls, A Pleasure Indeed, Criterion-Sep. 19, 2008
Comtesse Louise de Danielle Darrieux
Générale André de Charles Boyer
Baron Fabrizio Donati Vittorio De Sica
Monsieur Rémy Jean Debucourt
Monsieur de Bernac Jean Galland
Lola Lia Di Leo
Director Max Ophuls
Based on the novel by Louise de Vilmorin
Adaptation by Marcel Achard, Max Ophuls and Annette Wademant
Cinematography: Christian Matras
Music : Oscar Straus and Georges van Parys
Costumes: Georges Annenkov and Rosine Delamare
Sound : Antoine Petitjean
Editing: Borys Lewin
* Run Time: 105 minutes
* Filmed In: B&W