‘Madame de… was a most elegant lady, distinguished, and received everywhere. She seemed destined to a delightful untroubled existence. Doubtless nothing would have happened, but for the jewels’. This wee paragraph appears on screen, as the film is about to start. The jewels in question are a pair of diamond earrings, a wedding present from her husband Andre, which she sells without his knowledge to cover debts she has accrued due to her lavish spending. When the jeweller informs the General he buys them back and gives them as a farewell gift to his mistress. She travels to Constantinople and relinquishes them to her gambling debts. Its there that the Baron Fabrizio Donati purchases the earrings and at the same time meets Louise, Madame de, and the pair fall dangerously in love. Donati gives them as a present to Louise who then returns to France.
|Louise and Donati.|
It’s these two pieces of jewellery that form the substance of Max Ophuls love story. To Louise they are a token of her love for Donati, to Andre, the General; they are a token of his possession and power he welds over his wife. But Ophuls is not judgemental, leaving the audience to consider the French countesses emotional journey along the diseased road that can be love. ‘The camera exists to create a new art – to show what can be seen elsewhere, neither in theatre nor in life’. Ophuls statement could not be truer than in Madame de… (1953) his penultimate film before his death in 1957, one in which he directing his polished cast with the hand of a master. The bond between him and his actors is so obvious especially with Danielle Darrieux, the heart of the film, who plays the frivolous Parisian woman to perfection, Charles Boyer is every inch the 19th century French General with Vittorio De Sica portraying the suave international Diplomat. Its also pretty obvious that Christain Matras camera work is in love with the actors, when the couple dance, your on the dance floor breathing down their sophisticated necks, but what makes it even more interesting is that Matras does not rely on the obvious shot and his framing is absolutely exceptional enticing us, the audience, in as though we are scrutinising a painting. The whole shoot flows and ebbs like a Strauss Waltz with the director appreciating that music plays such great part in this adaptation from Louise Leveque de Vilmorin’s period novel. Recently released on a flawless new print that emphasises what a true cinematic classic Max Ophuls penultimate film actually is.