Earrings of Madame de..., The

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Dec 02, 2013
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Max Ophuls

Release Date(s)

1953 (August 6, 2013)

Studio(s)

Gaumont (Criterion - Spine #445)

Review

The Earrings of Madame de..., or simply Madame de... as it’s known in its native France, is, what many people consider to be Max Ophuls’ greatest cinematic achievement.  Basically a fall from grace-type love story, the film made a big impact on filmmakers from 1953 onwards.

The film tells the story of an aristocratic woman (played beautifully by Danielle Darrieux) who decides to sell a pair of diamond earrings that were given to her by her husband (Charles Boyer), but by doing so, sets off a chain of events that include an unintended romance between her and one of her husband’s colleagues (Vittorio De Sica) and a downfall of her marriage.

Even though the film has a more sophisticated nature to it, it isn’t altogether just art-house material.  The layers with which the actors perform their characters give it many sides, including some humor and being able to relate to it all.  Darrieux is so unlikable at times, but her performance is such that you feel genuinely feel sorry for her, and you want her to be happier than she is.  The film’s overall message of despair plays heavily into its eventual outcome, too.  The film is also shot beautifully, with very few close-ups and camera movement that sort of floats, rather than just moves.  There are also almost no scenes taking place outside of the main story at hand, and every scene has a goal in my mind.  Very few shots are used to convey ideas and the cinematography, in general, is magnificent.  It’s simply a beautiful film.

Even though The Earrings of Madame de... was adapted from the novel “Madame de...” by Louise de Vilmorin, it feels like a total cinematic experience.  Nothing is wasted, and nothing is neglected.  Every shot means something and every character action has been thought about and used skillfully.  If you’re looking for a film in which the way it was shot will dictate how you take the story in, then look no further than this film.  Well-edited and well-photographed, it’s considered today by many to be one of the most beautiful films ever made.

Unfortunately, the Criterion Blu-ray presentation of The Earrings of Madame de... does not feature the kind of presentation for a film that is as well-shot as it is.  But let’s go with the good points first.  Shadow delineation is quite good, as is the contrast and brightness, and the film’s overall grain structure seems to be “mostly” retained.  I’d like to emphasize that word, “mostly”.  The most distressing thing about the film’s transfer is the excessive use of DNR applied to it.  While the grain is there, it’s mostly clumpy and pixilated.  Deep background detail fares a bit better, but everything in the foreground carries this appearance.  Of course, it varies a bit from scene to scene, but for the majority, it has a soft and smooth appearance.  Now I’m not sure what the decision-making process was when going into mastering this film.  It seems apparent that Criterion simply authored and released the film for Region A territories and didn’t seem to have much of a say in the restoration and clean-up process.  Such is the case sometimes, depending on what kind of deal can be struck with other distribution companies and how much access a company can have to the product it distributes.  So I wouldn’t fault Criterion for this problem, but it is a problem.  The film is still very watchable, but you have to turn your judgment knob to off when viewing it because you’re likely to be disappointed in the quality.  It looks merely fine, when it could have looked so much better.  It’s still a step up from DVD, but definitely not perfect.  The film’s audio, which is a French uncompressed mono track, fares much better.  Clarity is excellent while the dialogue is very clear and precise.  The score favors very well, too.  There definitely less to complain about with the audio, and the English subtitles are very good and easy to follow.

For the film’s supplemental material, you get an audio commentary with film scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar; an introduction to the film by Paul Thomas Anderson; three reviews with Ophuls’ Collaborators: assistant director Alain Jessua, co-writer Annette Wademant and assistant decorator Marc Frederix; a visual essay on the film by film scholar Tag Gallagher; an archival interview with novelist Louise de Vilmorin; and an 80-page booklet with an essay by critic Molly Haskell, an excerpt from costume designer Georges Annenkov’s 1962 book “Max Ophuls” and the 78-page novel, “Madame de...”, by Louise de Vilmorin (both of the latter two pieces were translated from French).

Despite the transfer for the film giving a black eye to what would have an overwhelmingly wonderful Blu-ray release, I still have to recommend The Earrings of Madame de....  It may not be a perfect package, but it’s still the best release of the film so far.

- Tim Salmons

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