Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)
The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
It’s interesting to think that, despite the countless differences between Bicycle Thieves, and this film, The Earrings of Madame de…, the general point of the two films is essentially the same: the idea that one, mundane little object – in bicycle thieves, a bicycle, and in this film a pair of earrings – can be the cause of the destruction of a person’s life. Everything else about the two films are completely different; one takes place in Rome immediately following WWII, the other in Vienna just prior to the outbreak of the Great War, one deals with the lowest of the low, the other, the highest of the high, one centers around a man, and the other centers around a woman. It all just goes to show the commonality of life.
The film opens with a shot of some fur coats, a woman is speaking off camera. The camera flows from the coats to jewelry. All the while, the woman appears to be trying to choose some item or another. In the end, she chooses a pair of earrings. We are presented with the main character, the Madame de…, played by Danielle Darrieux, a woman of dazzling beauty. She first travels to a church, where she prays for her plan, whatever it may be, to succeed. She then travels to a pawn shop, where she sells the earrings to pay off mounting debts. It turns out that the earrings were a wedding gift to her from her husband. To avoid suspicion, she pretends, later that night, to lose her earrings. The scene quickly turns comical, however, when the jeweler returns the earrings to the husband, and the husband actually ends up buying the earrings back. He then gives the earrings to his mistress as a farewell gift, who he is sending away to Istanbul. When she arrives at the city, she starts to gamble, and is eventually forced to pawn the earrings herself to pay off her gambling debts. The earrings are then bought by one Baron Fabrizio Donati, played by Vittorio di Seca, who was the director of Bicycle Thieves (the connections just keep coming). He is an Italian ambassador, and while he is getting on a train to return home, he sees the Madame de…, and falls desperately in love with her. Later on, they meet up again, and thus begins a courtship in which Madame de…, who is an incorrigible flirt, falls madly in love with him. The Baron eventually gifts her the earrings, and the rest of the film is about Madame de… trying to cover this up, and the consequences of such, right down to its very tragic ending.
The acting in this film, is once again spectacular. Danielle Darrieux started acting in films in 1931, and 23 years later she looks absolutely spectacular. She plays opulence incredibly, and despite her character’s extreme materialistic sentiments, and her initial heartlessness, she’s still a very likeable character. Vittorio di Seca proves to be just as good at acting as he is at directing. Charles Boyer, who plays the husband, is just as likely. Despite the fact that he would be considered the “bad guy” in this film, you can’t help but feel sympathy for him as well. This film is directed by renowned filmmaker Max Ophüls, who is known for his “moving camera” – he liked to have his camera never stop moving during a shot. The viewer gets to see many examples of this during the film, and the result is many spectacular shots throughout the film. The first of these is the very first shot of the film, which features the camera moving from one cabinet of jewelry to another. Another, and perhaps the most famous of them, is the montage of Darrieux and di Seca falling in love. This is done through a series of ballroom shots, each segueing into the next. It’s hard to explain, but very well done. Another great scene, is at the climatic end of the film, first with the duel, and then with its dramatic result. The great part of this film lies in the tragedy. It’s one of those films where you know it isn’t going to work out in the end. However, by the end, you really find yourself hoping it will.
This film is on the list, firstly for the camera work. The shots, as I said are spectacular. I also felt the film was on the list for the dazzling beauty of Danielle Darrieux, who to this day is still acting. I also feel the film is on the list for its story. It’s an amazing investigation into just how connected people can be, and, as I said previously, how one object can upend not just the life of the Madame, but everyone else connected to her. This gets to such a point, that the film starts making fun of itself with the jeweler, who ends up selling the earrings back to the husband on three independent occasions, with the husband not agreeing to buy it back on the fourth time. This film is a great one to see, and I highly recommend it.