The Earrings of Madame de... (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection / 1953 / 100 min. / NR
THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... (or simply MADAME DE... as it was originally titled in France and on the film itself) is now considered a masterpiece of French cinema and one of the shining jewels from director Max Ophuls who also directed the classics LA RONDE (1950) and LOLA MONTES (1955.) This wasn't the case upon the film's original release. It received mixed reviews. Only after a quarter of a century was it re-evaluated and deemed a classic.
The story revolves around the extremely beautiful and similarly extremely flirtatious Louise de... (Danielle Darrieux), her strict and proper husband General Andre de... (Charles Boyer) and the dashing and romantic Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica.) Louise and Andre are more of a show couple than a couple in love. They appear in public the picture of wealth and happiness but behind closed doors they sleep in separate beds and have the shallowest of conversations. While on a vacation in Constantinople, she catches the eye of Baron Donati, who immediately falls for her but misses his opportunity to talk with her. Later they run into each other in Paris, again only briefly, before finally meeting at a lavish ball and begin an emotional and powerful affair (that may or may not have ever been consummated.) The titular diamond earrings were a wedding gift to Louise from the General and change hands several times throughout the film informing the various members of this trio as to the others true feelings and motivations.
THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... is indeed a great film; it's just not that great a story. As the 100 minutes unwound I found myself more and more marveling at Ophuls' signature camera moves (which are simply astounding), Darrieux's exquisite performance, the lavish costumes (which were nominated for nominated for an Academy Award) and the romantic Oscar Straus score than I was caught up in the story. The love triangle and the ever important and telling plot device of the earrings were okay and well-crafted but simply weren't strong enough to pull you away from the dazzling way Ophuls uses the language of cinema to tell that story. It is similar to looking at a magnificent painted portrait in a beautiful frame of a bland looking person.
The full frame 1.33 transfer has been criticized on-line for overuse of de-noising and digital "scrubbing." Fair enough. It is noticeable if you are looking for it but I doubt that anyone other than hardcore technophiles would see it. I found the picture very nice, the source print flawless and the gray scale fairly rich. It's not Criterions best work but it is a beautiful picture nonetheless.
There are no complaints about the LPCM 1.0 sound mix. This is a great sounding film from the 1950's with excellent depth. The restored soundtrack is surprisingly clean with not a single bit of age related damage or debris to be heard.
The supplement package from the 2008 DVD release has been ported over and is quite comprehensive.
The commentary track is provided by film scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar.
The "Introduction" by director Paul Thomas Anderson is less an introduction than it is 15 minutes of commentary over several key scenes from the film. I would not recommend watching this before seeing the movie.
"Ophuls' Collaborators" is a three part section of interviews with: assistant director Alain Jessua, co-writer Annette Wademant and assistant decorator Marc Frederix.
The "Visual Essay by Tag Gallagher" is a fascinating dissection of the film well worth checking out.
"Novelist Louise de Vilmorin" is a vintage excerpt from the television series "Demons et merveilles du cinema" from 1965 with the author discussing Ophuls' adaptation of her book.
A beautiful 80-page booklet filled with excerpts from the original novel and costume design sketches rounds out the package.
I found the mechanics of THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... far more interesting than the actual story. It is a beautiful film in every respect with outstanding performances from all three leads, but the actual story was ultimately just mediocre. Recommended as a rental for the casual viewer but film students will want to add it to their library for study.