Friday, August 31, 2007

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

Look in the dictionary next to "elegance" and "sophistication" and it'll say "see The Earrings of Madame De...". But if this was all about making a movie look pretty and moving the camera like a champ, this wouldn't be a classic. What sets it apart is that it successfully overcomes the biggest trap for films about the privileged classes- the thing most of these movies get wrong but what nearly all the best ones (Barry Lyndon aside) get very right. Its characters transcend their social class and are engaging and sympathetic, and Ophüls makes us forget that they were all born with loads of money and are passing around earrings that are probably worth more than most people's cars. And that's no mean feat. People never tire of quoting Rules of the Game in reviews when they say, "everybody has his reasons," but they almost never quote the whole line, which begins, "the great tragedy of life is this." By the time Madame de..., approaching death, staggers up the hill to the place where her husband and lover are dueling, this idea is unmistakable in Ophüls' film as well. Rating: ***1/2 out of ****.

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