Friday, September 19, 2008

The Earrings of Madame de…

There’s quite a following for this terrific film, which I saw for the first time earlier this week, and I can certainly understand why – I’m pretty sure I just saw a masterpiece. Director Max Ophuls has crafted an absolutely exquisite tragic romance, light and breezy at first, but as it starts to accumulate more and more details and the triangular relationship at its center becomes more complex, the meanings imbued in every line, in every glance, (and certainly in every camera move) start to take on more significance and the film turns serious indeed. Much has been made of the fluidity of the camerawork, and rightly so – Ophuls’s camera roves around rooms, follows a character’s gaze, or moves from floor to floor, but always with a purpose, to show the flighty nature of Madame Louise de… early on, or her frantic worry later in the film. Performances by the three leads – Danielle Darrieux as the disaffected and flirty wife, Charles Boyer as her husband, and Vittorio De Sica as the would-be suitor – are also spectacular. I’ll take this film’s suppressed passions over those in just about any film of unrequited love. And the film’s design - its mise-en-scene if you’ll pardon the film geek terminology – is as dazzling as the camerawork, all baroque mirrors reflecting the characters and their social trappings of lace and glass enmeshing them in the roles they’re expected to play. And here’s where the earrings come in – at first they’re a tossed-away symbol of the marriage that doesn’t seem to be working, but each time they change hands, they’ve accrued a new level of meaning for both the viewer and the character giving or receiving them. It’s a lot of layers to pile on to what could’ve been a simple love story, but Ophuls’s film never collapses under the weight of his ambitions. I’m not ready to call it the greatest film ever made, as some film critics have, but I’m open to the idea that it’s a possibility.

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