The Earrings of Madame de… – The Criterion Collection #445 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 5, 2013 by Dennis Amith
Max Ophüls’ masterpiece “The Earrings of Madame de…” is highly recommended! For those who own the 2008 DVD release, the main reason to buy this is for the improved picture and audio quality thanks to the 2012 Gaumont restoration and having this amazing film in HD. For those who never owned the film, as a cineaste to another, this masterpiece is simply a must buy!
Image are courtesy of © 1953 Gaumont Rizzoli Films. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Earrings of Madame de… – The Criterion Collection #445
YEAR OF FILM: 1953
DURATION: 100 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Monaural in French with English Subtitles
COMPANY:Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: August 6, 2013
Directed by Max Ophyls
Based on the novel by Louise de Vilmorin
Screenplay by Marcel Achard, Max Ophuls
Written by Annette Wademant
Music by Oscar Straus, Georges Van Parys
Cinematography by Christian Matras
Edited by Borys Lewin
Production Design by Jean d’Eaubonne
Costume Design by Georges Annenkov, Rosine Delamare
Charles Boyer as General Andre de…
Danielle Darrieux as Comtesse Louise de…
Vittorio De Sica as Baron Fabrizio Donati
Jean Debucourt as Monsieur Remy
Jean Galland as Monsieur de Bernac
Mireille Perrey as La Nourrice
Paul Azais as Le premier cocher
The most cherished work from French master Max Ophuls, The Earrings of Madame de . . . is a profoundly emotional, cinematographically adventurous tale of deceptive opulence and tragic romance. When an aristocratic woman known only as Madame de . . . (Danielle Darrieux) sells a pair of earrings given to her by her husband (Charles Boyer) in order to pay some debts, she sets off a chain reaction of financial and carnal consequences that can end only in despair. Ophuls’s adaptation of Louise de Vilmorin’s incisive fin de siècle novel employs to ravishing effect the elegant and precise camera work for which the director is so justly renowned.
One of the legendary filmmakers who inspired other filmmakers for generations to come, filmmaker Max Ophüls has captivated audiences with films such as “La Ronde” (1950), “Le Plaisir” (1952) and “Lola Montes” (1955). But known for creating films regarded as cinematic masterpieces, his 1953 drama “The Earrings of Madame de…” is considered as a masterpiece of 1950’s French cinema.
The filmmaker known to push the boundaries of cinematography with smooth camera movements, complex crane and dolly sweeps and tracking shots that would inspire filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson.
His extravagant films were known for their beauty and every shot in his 1953 masterpiece mattered.
An adaptation of Louise de Vilmorin’s novel, the screenplay was written by Ophüls, Marcel Achard and Annette Wademant and features wonderful performances from actress Danielle Darrieux and the two leading men, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica.
Having received the Criterion Collection DVD release in 2008, “The Earrings of Madame de…” will be released on Blu-ray in August 2013 via the Criterion Collection featuring a new digital master of Gaumont’s 2012 2K restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
“The Earrings of Madame de…” is a film that revolves around Comtesse Louise de… (portrayed by Danielle Darrieux). The wife of General Andre de… (portrayed by Charles Boyer) and begins with Louise going to the jeweler to sell her expensive earrings.
She tells the jeweler that she is in debt because of her extravagant lifestyle and that she needs the money, but to keep the transaction secret. Also, that she will create a story for her husband about the missing jewels.
Louise later comes up with a plan at the theater that the earrings that she had is now gone and she may have lost it in the theater or their box car. As the General goes to look for them and are unable to find them, he decides to have a news article printed that the diamond earrings were stolen.
For the jeweler who is in possession of the earrings, not wanting his store to be linked to theft, tells the General that his wife sold him the earrings and he’s welcome to buy it back for her.
The General agrees to buy back the earrings and he gives it to his mistress as a goodbye gift. While going home to discuss with his wife about the missing earrings, Louise continues to lie about how she loved the earrings and is sad they are missing, and the General knowing that his wife is lying.
As for the mistress with the earrings, after suffering a major gambling loss, she sells the earrings for money in order for her to continuing her gambling.
The earrings are later purchased by an Italian baron named Fabrizio Donati (portrayed by Vittorio De Sica) who is a diplomat in the same city that both the General and Louise live. When Fabrizio sees Louise, it is love at first sight and when the General goes off to fight in war, the two begin to have an emotional affair as Fabrizio has fallen in love with Louise, and Louise…for the first time in her life, she has found love but with another man that is not her husband.
As the General returns back home, Louise knows she must stop seeing Fabrizio but as Fabrizio is often at locations where both the General and Louise attend, when Donati falls from a horse during a hunting trip with her husband, Louise faints. And immediately, the General suspects that there may be something going on between both his wife and Fabrizio. It is also revealed that Louise tends to faint and suffers from a weak heart condition.
Donati comes to visit Louise while her husband is gone and brings her roses but also the earrings that she sold quite some time ago. But this time, unlike her dispassionate feeling towards the earrings when they were given to her by her husband, she treasures the earrings that Donati had given to her because she knows in her heart, she loves him.
But what story will Louise come up with in order to wear the earrings, not knowing that her husband had repurchased the earrings and gave it to his mistress? And will these Louise and Fabrizio be able to continue their romantic affair, while she is still married to the General?
“The Earrings of Madame de…” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Having owned the original 2008 Criterion Collection DVD release, I was excited to see how much of an improvement the picture quality would get in HD considering the film was restored in 2012 by Gaumont.
According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital master was produced from a 2012 restoration undertaken by Gaumont. For the restoration, a transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35mm nitrate negative at Eclair Laboratories in Epinay-sur-Seine, France.”
My first thoughts were how clean this film looks. There are no white specks, there are no scratches and the contrast levels of the black, white and grays look fantastic! But I also noticed that the film also features any noise. And I know there are reviewers who are adamantly against any sight of digital noise reduction (DNR). For me, the picture quality wasn’t soft nor was it overly affected by the DNR. I felt the film look wonderful on Blu-ray and the restoration done on the film made for a much better presentation in HD when compared to the original 2008 DVD release.
“The Earrings of Madame de…” is presented in French LPCM 1.0 and features English subtitles. According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was restored from a safety positive made from the sound negative by L.E. Diapason in Epinay-sur-Seine.”
“The Earrings of Madame de… – The Criterion Collection #445” comes with the following special features:
- Audio commentary – Featuring an audio commentary by film scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar (originally from the 2008 DVD release).
- Paul Thomas Anderson Introduction – (14:26) Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson discusses various sequences of “The Earrings of Madame de…”.
- Ophuls’ Collaboratoes – (All in French with optional English subtitles) Featuring a 2005 interview with assistant director Robert Fischer in Paris (25:29); a 1989 interview with co-writer Annette Wademant (6:49) and a 1989 interview with assistant decorator Marc Frederix (8:11).
- Visual Essay by Tag Galaggher – (17:22) Tag Gallagher discusses the structure and style of “The Earrings of Madame de…”.
- Novelist Louise de Vilmorin – (4:44) A 1965 interview from “Demons et Merveilles du Cinema” with Louise de Vilmorin (the writer of the novel that “The Earrings of Madame de…” was based on.
“The Earrings of Madame de… – The Criterion Collection #445” comes with an 82-page booklet featuring the essays “The Cost of Living” by Molly Haskell, “Dressing Madame de…” by Georges Annenkov and “Madame de” by Louise de Vilmorin.
When you watch a Max Ophüls film, especially his most revered films from the ’50s, each film carefully planned, tracking shots and camera movements that are smooth, elaborate and showcasing the most complex crane and dolly sweeps in cinema, for any cineaste, you know you are in for a treat with an Ophüls film.
But there is also a sophistication, a classy atmosphere thanks to his elaborate sets and costume design featured in his film, often you would see the word “beautiful” associated with his films.
As with many of Max Ophüls films, the film would revolve around a woman. In this case, a woman who has experienced love for the first time but not with her husband but for another man. Having given up the earrings that came from her husband that meant nothing to her, the earrings resurface as a gift from the man she loves and now she wants to keep it close to her heart. But the caveat is her husband knows full well of the history of her selling the earrings, the fact that he gave it to another woman and it found its way back to their home, knowing that it was a gift from Donati, the Italian baron that will surely become his rival.
The film is a dramatic love story or more so, the tragedy of love. A desperation of love that you want to have but you can’t. We see the flourishing of love between Louise and Donati that goes from normal flirtation to romance, while around her husband, it’s nothing more than a person you attend personal engagements with, the lack of love.
The fascinating element of this film is the recurring element, the earrings that have gone from Louise hands to a jeweler, back to the General, to a mistress, back to Donati, back to Louise, back to the jeweler, back to the General, etc. Earrings that move through many hands but an object that has gone from earrings of spite, to earrings of love and what happens when Louise is denied those earrings.
The performances by each talent is impeccable. Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica give a commanding performance. Danielle Darrieux has had an amazing working relationship with the filmmaker and it’s surprising that both she and Charles Boyer worked together nearly 20-years before on the 1936 Anatole Litvak film “Mayerling”. But it’s the performance of Darrieux on “The Earrings of Madame de…” that I think she will always be remembered for, considering to this day, she is one of the few French actresses that is still active, going on 80 years. And for suave Italian filmmaker Vittorio De Sica, always an amazing actor. All three were magnificent!
And as we go back to the cinematic style of Max Ophüls, one is immediately drawn in to the smooth, moving camera that has captivated audiences for decades. Each shot is wonderfully done, well-planned and are complex and enchanting. May it be the shots of Louise and the General sleeping in different rooms, to Louise and Donati on the dance floor, it is continuous movement following the two and the emotions captured on camera that you realize these two characters have fallen in love.
The showcase of elegance is no doubt fin de siècle, a time that has been forgotten but yet for Max Ophüls, he is one filmmaker who has done well of capturing it on camera, as if this is a time period that he is as passionate with, despite not being born of that era. And for those who criticize Ophüls for his high level of sophistication as seen in his films at that time the film was released in theaters, one can only hope that today and tomorrow’s audiences can appreciate his films and see the efficacy, the beauty, the complexity of Ophüls style.
Max Ophüls’ “The Earrings of Madame de…” looks fantastic on Blu-ray. I’m not going to criticize the choice of the Criterion Collection for its use of DNR, but I can tell you with how things look with the amazing 2008 Criterion Collection DVD to the wonderful Blu-ray presentation with its better contrast, cleaner presentation and lossless soundtrack. I think that people will be subjective but I find nothing wrong with the film’s picture quality, the 2012 restoration has made this amazing film much better on Blu-ray and I think that any fans of Ophüls films will want to upgrade to this definitive version.
The Blu-ray release contains the same special features as the 2008 DVD release. Audio commentary, interviews with Ophüls collaborators, visual essay and the brief interview with writer Louise de Vilmorin are still included, as with the fantastic booklet with several essays.
So, for those who own the 2008 DVD release, the main reason to buy this is for the improved picture and audio quality thanks to the 2012 Gaumont restoration and having this amazing film in HD. For those who never owned the film, as a cineaste to another, this masterpiece is simply a must buy!
Overall, Max Ophüls’ masterpiece “The Earrings of Madame de…” is highly recommended!
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