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earringsThe French specialize in many things: cheese, wine, art galleries, fashion, scenic vineyards, unjustified arrogance, etc.  Doomed, cinematic romances are also a particular strong suit for them.  Classic French cinema is peppered with great romances where the leads are destined to not fall in love forever, not live happily ever after, and in most cases die.  Most of these movies are brilliant classics.  But occasionally a regarded classic rubs you the wrong way.  “The Earrings of Madame de” was one of those pictures for me.

Filmed in the early 1950’s “Madame de” tells the story of a wealthy French woman who, in an unexplained bout of bad financial circumstance, sells a beautiful pair of diamond earrings to make some quick cash.  This simple act begets a white lie, which creates another white lie, which causes bizarre circumstances to unfold, which results in romance, then tragedy and then death.  It all sounds lurid and wonderful, but “Madame de” can be a chore to sit through at times.

The biggest hindrance to the picture is the unnamed Madame de.  It’s impossible to generate feelings of sympathy and ultimately tragedy for a character who is over privileged and spoiled from the beginning.  Madame de is essentially a rich bitch that spends lots of money and creates her own problems because she can’t live a life of simple luxury.  She has to have irrational, overindulged luxury.  Her financial problems are never explained or divulged.  She simply needs money and because of this one takes an immediate disliking to her and her so-called plight.  These opening scenes create an air of the despicable and the film never recovers from it.  Though it arrives at a skillfully tragic conclusion, this viewer felt too much emotional distance and disliking to truly care about what was happening to anyone.

“Madame de” is noted as a picture of incredible technical skill and on those merits the film is indeed an achievement.  On a simple filmmaking level the film is opulent and admirable.  Directed by Max Ophuls, he guides his camera like a skilled dancer through setting and characters.  Every shot and sequence feels as if it has been planned with the utmost care.  His camera movements are graceful in a way no working director today could achieve.  It’s this miraculous level of professional skill that makes the inane story so maddening.  There are things to admire here, but better and more endearing French tragedies are there to embrace than “The Earrings of Madame de.”

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