Madame de…

Movies, Drama
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Some movies are so routinely overpraised that including them on all-time top-ten lists seems merely unoriginal. Madame de… doesn’t live up to some of the knee-jerk adulation it receives, or to its reputation as a film powerful enough to unite rival critics Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael.

Still, confronted with Ophüls’s famously flowing camerawork, it’s difficult to equivocate.Wispy-thin as the scraps of paper that Ophüls—in a celebrated dissolve—transforms into snowflakes, the plot is fluff incarnate, alchemized into dark poetry.

Comtesse Louise (Darrieux) callously sells the earrings her husband (Boyer) once gave her as a wedding present, but the sympathetic jeweler sneaks them back to him. The bemused husband gives the jewels to his mistress, and through a roundabout process they return to Louise, this time as a gift from the Italian baron (De Sica) with whom she’s having an affair of her own.The earrings’ sentimental value is thus restored—but at what price?

A movie about the ephemerality of love, Madame de… unfolds in a constant present tense, devoted—to borrow another Ophüls title—to capturing the reckless moment. Countering the artifice of his story with astonishing, real-time tracking shots, Ophüls is always loath to cut when a swoop or pirouette is possible. “I have an orgasm every time I see a camera movement,” Sarris once told his college class after a screening, grossing out, among others, the caffeine-addled freshman now writing this review. Okay, it’s not orgasmically great. But how many films are?

By: Ben Kenigsberg

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Release details

Rated: NR
Duration: 102 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Max Ophüls
Screenwriter: Max Ophüls, Marcel Achard, Annette Wademant
Cast: Danielle Darrieux
Charles Boyer
Vittorio De Sica
Jean Debucourt
Lia de Léa
Mireille Perrey
Jean Galland
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