Madame de… is one of the Weirder Films on the list

The 1001 movies list contains films of all kinds. Romances and westerns, comedies and horror. It’s even got some core science fiction on it.

Madame de… (translated into English as The Earrings of Madame de...) defies easy classification. If you go by the plot, it’s obviously a melodrama, especially considering the ending.

But that would be an oversimplification. The story is told in a way that would work much better for a romance even bordering on a romantic comedy, with an absurd coincidence involving a pair of earrings driving the twists and turns of the plot.

We see a love triangle in which a man of action is forced, by the indiscretions of his wife to first enter denial and then acceptance of the realities of their marriage. He responds in truly the only way open to him… with melodramatic results.

So the light frivolity of a period romance and the serious underlying reality occur in parallel with the result that the film never achieves the weighty, ponderous tension of true melodrama. The audience is carried lightly from scene to scene, more interested in the weird perambulations of the earrings than in the disintegrating relationship underlying everything.

Until it explodes in an obvious but still unexpected denoument.

Bringing an audience to the end the director did without making it obvious (despite there being very few other possibilities) is an act of genius, and Max Ophüls is to be commended.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction is collected in Love and Death, a novel told in short story form which follows the intertwined lives of a dozen people who experience both love and death and show once again that these are the only two things worth writing about. You can check it out here.

5 comments

  1. Glad to see you cover this one! The Earrings of Madame De… is in my top five, maybe top three, movies ever — just rewatched it a few weeks ago in fact (and coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about referencing this one in a story I’m working on). There is so much to be found in this one both in terms of story and formal technique — I love how much of it is about coincidences and people reacting to and trying to derive meaning from coincidences and how the situations that arise mirror one another, with the whole drama built around the strange conceit of these earrings, which mean something different to the characters every time they appear. On top of all that, I think Vittorio De Sica’s acting is incredible in this one — take the expression his face when he bumps into Madame De… in their carriage accident, technically their second encounter, and his and her dueling expressions in the extended night-over-night ballroom dance scene, which seem to tell a different story about how they relate to one another each time the camera catches them between spins (not unlike the shifting metaphor of the earrings). I agree too with your take on the uniqueness of the tone — I find the film so captivating and heartfelt, but there is so much comedy in it! Filled with laugh-out-loud zingers as the whole messy situation unfolds. Yet it’s not at all the screwball comedy in which, as you pointed out, we would be more likely to see a plot device like the earrings (I hadn’t thought of that aspect before reading your take, but I think it’s true). I’ve long planned to watch more films by Max Ophuels since I like this one so much, hopefully I’ll get to Lola Montez this year. Have you ever seen that one?
    -M.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haven’t seen Lola Montez (need to check if it’s on the list I’m using as a guide and probably add it if it isn’t).

      I think you’re right on the brilliance of this film. The nuance is what makes it so fun to watch in spite of the fact that you know it won’t end well as soon as the real affair starts… The fact that you can enjoy the sticky mess and only feel the melodramatic aspects in the final five minutes show precisely what you’re saying: that we are taken for a ride in the hands of a master.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For some reason WordPress isn’t allowing me to “like” comments this morning, something about a login that i can’t figure out — but consider that *liked* 🙂 — for sure, if I remember correctly Ophuels was one of the first, if not the first, director that the early proponents of auteur theory pointed to as an illustration of the concept… Whatever one thinks of auteur theory as a way of looking at film or how far we should go with it, the fact that he got such a response certainly says something about his mastery of the form!
        -M.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. One of the things I like most about watching these old movies is that you end up, whether you intended to or not, with a certain grounding in what makes a movie good or bad… something I would never have been able to identify when I started!

        Liked by 1 person

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