The Earrings of Madame de (dir. Max Ophuls).1953.

with Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, Vittorio de Sica


Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio de Sica

The perfection of this movie, with its upper class story of a woman in love for the first time, depends on its rhythms,  performances, and symbolism.

Madame de (Darrieux) lives with the general (Boyer) and her life is devoted to fine clothes, jewelry, furs.  She flirts with everyone and anyone.  Early scenes are quick paced– she rushes out to the jeweler in order to avoid the notice of her husband, setting the theme of deception.  She selects diamond earrings her husband gave her on their wedding night to sell.  “Tell him something vague,” she instructs her servant. Once the general appears he takes charge of every scene, in complete command.  The only power Madame de has is through charm and beauty.

She had never loved until she meets the baron (de Sica).  The coup de foudre–love at first sight — occurs when their stagecoaches collide.  He pursues her at dinner, at dances, the camera restless with kinetic energy, constantly circling in endless waltzes, the dizzying effect of infatuation.   The diamond earrings turn up after changing hands several times — the general gets them back from the jeweler when they are reported stolen.  He then gives the earrings to his mistress as she leaves for an outpost, but her gambling debt forces her to sell them. Passing the pawn shop, the baron notices their perfection and buys them, knowing that they need to belong to someone essential.

The general when he sees how smitten his wife is with another man, claims ownership and takes action to get her back in the only way he knows how.   Describing the plot makes it sound more melodramatic than it is.  Ophuls maintains a subtle tone, and the actors play complex human beings.  There are several scenes in church where Madame de makes earnest pleas to the Virgin, showing the spiritual element of her life.

 Darrieux plays a woman owned by her husband in the same way as the earrings are owned by those who purchase them, but ownership can never satisfy.  You have to belong.  The general superbly acted by Boyer fights this fact.    I can’t stop thinking of this movie, how it gave me chills in its final scene.   How infinitely more important it is to be loved than to be possessed.


About Patricia Markert

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