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DVD/Blu-ray: Madame de… | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Madame de…

DVD/Blu-ray: Madame de…

Unexpected passions win out in Max Ophüls’ landmark drama of the heart

Time to go home. The titular Madame (Danielle Darrieux) with her husband (Charles Boyer) in 'Madame de…'

Initially, Madame de… feels as if it might wear out its welcome. What seems a wearisome exposition on how privileged people with too much time on their hands fill their hours with vacuity gradually turns into an incisive discourse on the power of the emotions behind the facades fashioned for polite society. Towards the end, it’s clear that even the most seemingly shallow of people can be swayed by unexpected passions. And at the end: blam, an astonishingly powerful pay-off.

Reviewing Madame de… in 1954, when it was released in the UK as The Earrings of Madame de…, Lindsay Anderson (whose review is reprinted in full in this new package’s booklet) said that “in all [its] visual frou-frou, it is not surprising that the characters become lost and the interior development of their drama is almost completely unobserved.” What’s clear, and was seemingly unclear to Anderson, is that going with the flow is essential to appreciating Madame de…

madame de max ophuls Vittorio De Sica Danielle Darrieux_webMax Ophüls directed the film after returning to France from America, where he had been after the start of World War Two until 1950. It was the third feature he made once back in Europe, following La Ronde (1950) and La Plaisir (1952). Drawing from the 1951 book by Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin, Madame de… has some similarities with La Ronde as a cyclic tale. The never fully named Madame (Danielle Darrieux) sells her earrings to pay for debts. A wedding gift from her husband, a count and general (Charles Boyer), they are repeatedly sold on and end up being bought by the man who becomes her lover, the Italian diplomat Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio De Sica). As a plot device, the earrings symbolise transience and transition, and are also a symbol of power: her husband knows how they have come back and uses them as punishment.

In the three stunning lead performances there is a powerful balance of aloofness and intensity. Ophüls steers his cast through lengthy tracking shots which often turn the film into a lustrous theatre piece. For its technical achievements alone, Madame de… is worth visiting. But it is so much more than an exercise.

This new dual-format DVD/Blu-ray BFI release uses a fresh high-definition transfer from the original negative, rather than the master employed by the 2013 Criterion Collection edition. Comparatively, the new transfer has deeper black-and-white toning and more foregrounded dialogue. While the Criterion commentary track and introduction by Paul Thomas Anderson are not reused, the British package has two unique extras (an hour-long 2013 documentary, and a half-hour interview with Ophüls associate Alain Jessua) and a booklet stuffed with appreciations and essays.

Lengthy tracking shots turn the film into a lustrous theatre piece


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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