Saturday 28 July 2012

1,001 Films: "Madame De..." (1953)

Max Ophüls' Madame de... is one of those rare films in which the focus of attention isn't a human being, but an inanimate object: in this case, a pair of earrings given to the title character by her husband, sold for hard cash, and subsequently passed around the world while three of their first four owners - general Charles Boyer, baron Vittorio de Sica and Danielle Darrieux as the woman who comes between them - themselves circle around one another. Restlessness, rather than constancy, guides the storytelling here: the film doesn't have a plot so much as a series of variably tiny indiscretions stitched together with the grace and elegance of an aristocrat's silk glove. The central seduction sequence - involving a married woman, egads - is presented as one long, continuous waltz that compresses several other extracurricular trysts into magical cinema. It's suitably opulent - Ophülent, even - but never content merely to revel in its opulence; it is, instead, a film of great spirit in which characters dwarfed by the grandeur of their surroundings, and by the forces of fate and destiny pitted against them, attempt to fight back, make their presence felt and their hearts, long muffled by layers of immaculate tailoring and noble conditioning, sing once more. Ophüls knows exactly where he stands, treating the earrings as the trinkets they are, and giving the wittiest, most telling lines to the musicians, ushers, footservants and servants watching the whole damn merry-go-round glide by.

Madame de... is available on DVD through Second Sight.

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