The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)
July 27, 2015 1:37 PM - Subscribe

In 19th century France, the wife of a wealthy general pays off her debts by selling the earrings her husband gave her on their wedding day, then claims to have lost them. Available to stream commercial-free to Hulu subscribers here.

Part of the Criterion on Hulu film club. If you're not a Hulu subscriber, we've begun adding a second film each week that's free to non-subscribers. More info here.
posted by Ian A.T. (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by Iridic at 2:10 PM on July 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Loved this movie, I feel like I'm going to have to see it a few times to get it all. Some of my random thoughts:

- I spent most of the time just stunned at the technical brilliance of camera movement and all those long uninterrupted shots. The scenes in the ballroom with all the mirrors and the camera following the couple around obstacles were bit standouts for me. The fact that the actors manage such great performances while hitting such a complicated series of marks is amazing.
- The plot is pretty preposterous when you think about it but it seems like a metaphor for how trapped she was and how little control she had over her own life. She made one wrong decision at the beginning and nothing she could ever do would extract her from her fate. It reminded me a lot of Barry Lyndon that way.
- Amazing that the actor Vittorio De Sica was also the director of Umberto D and Bicycle Thieves. Those films are so at home in the lowest places of society and here he's playing someone at the highest rank.
posted by octothorpe at 2:10 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

That sorta ties into a previous pick: would anyone believe that the actor who played Henry Hobson would go on to direct possibly the greatest Southern Gothic ever put to film?
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:27 PM on July 27, 2015

Oh my god I love this film. The Criterion DVD has a commentary by Paul Thomas Anderson where he can barely contain his glee.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:11 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here's a clip from it. It's charming how rapidly Anderson's commentary devolves from technical notes on the utility of long takes to oh gosh this film is so good you guys I love it so much.
posted by Iridic at 6:49 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

(Which is about the same level of discourse I'm prepared to undertake. I tried to write some more substantial comments earlier, but I kept getting hung on minor points about the sheer amount of glass in the house, or the cut of De Sica's jackets, or the way all the old pleasure rushes back to Louise's face when Donati tells her she's still beautiful.)
posted by Iridic at 7:02 PM on July 27, 2015

There are so many small and elegant pleasures here, and they're all incredibly important, because this movie is partly about the immensities, both of void and substance, hidden in the frivolous and ornamental.
posted by Iridic at 7:07 PM on July 27, 2015

This one is a bit of a mystery to me. I really enjoyed the movie. I loved the characters. I really loved the setting. It was beautiful. I guess I felt let down by the story. Although, reflecting on it a little further, it would be easy to root for the Comtesse if she were perfect and never made mistakes. Perhaps that's part of the point.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:45 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ha ha, ob1quixote, that was one of my favorite things about it. I really like movies featuring female protagonists who have real flaws that don't fall under the "caring too much" umbrella. Where they're selfish or deceptive or disloyal or thoughtless without being cast as villains.

Anyway, I watched this a few months back, in a totally unintentional double feature with Cleo from 5 to 7, which we're watching on the 17th, and there are a number of strange similarities between the two that I think really highlight the different styles. Seriously, just wait. They don't seem to be intentionally influenced, but it seemed like synchronicity that I arbitrarily watched those two movies back to back.

Earrings... unfortunately suffered for me from the comparison, because Cleo is solidly in my top 5, but there is no denying Ophuls' brilliance. That tracking shot in the clip Iridic posted and that melded dancing scene in particular were just flawless.

I definitely owe this a rewatch.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:01 PM on August 9, 2015

I definitely had the same reaction that ob1quixote had. For the first 3/4s, I loved how the film merely observed the story, without taking sides but also without being disdainful of the characters or emotionally distant. It didn't attempt to garner easy sympathy, but at the same time you could tell the film had a real empathy for all the characters. Too often, when a film seems objective, what it's really saying is "eh, they're all terrible." But that's not what's happening here.

So it was weird and disappointing when I realized towards the end that the movie had stacked the deck in favor of a story about how Madame de Ellipsis was in a beautiful love affair and suffering from a marriage to a cruel tyrant of a husband. That was not the movie I wanted it to turn into.

I'm aware that this is more of a subjective issue, and that other viewers might not think the film takes Louise's side, but regardless, it was what I took away from the film (and for whatever it's worth, Paul Thomas Anderson puzzles over the same thing in his commentary.) So ultimately, the distance I was talking about above worked against the film for me in the end. All the little things that pleasantly undercut the romance at the beginning meant that I wasn’t too emotionally invested in it by the FIN.

But! Holy mackerel what a gorgeous film! I've watched it twice now, and shown the opening and ballroom sequences to friends, so it's definitely not a case of me not liking the movie. There are some tableaus here that are as beautiful as any ever shot, and the camera movement is just so elegant and lovely.

I'm reminded a little bit of Bertolucci's The Conformist, which the most beautifully shot movie I've ever seen; it's a favorite, and now that it's on Netflix I have it on in the background while I do chores more often than not. But I consider the tone of the film to be dated—full of that particularly arrogant strain of 70s Euro arthouse ennui—the plot to be just fashionably abstract enough to confuse viewers, and the politics to be facile. Luckily, there's an easy fix: I just turn the subtitles off.

I liked Madame de... a bit more than that, and I think there's some great writing in it (The General describing their marriage as "only superficially superficial" is just perfect and so reminiscent of various relationships in my own past). I don't think I'll watch it without subtitles in the future, but it ultimately joins The Conformist in the same "beautiful but unsatisfying" slot.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2015

I really wanted to love this film, it is beautiful and opulent, but the plot to me is like the dumb parts of A Hero of our Time, the movie. It has so much to love, but the characterizations and pacing are a huge let down for me.
posted by Carillon at 2:02 PM on February 17

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