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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Sunday, September 23, 2012
7:00 p.m. The Earrings of Madame de . . .
Max Ophuls (France/Italy, 1953)

(Madame de . . .). A narcissistic countess, whom we shall call Madame de . . . (Danielle Darrieux), is given a pair of earrings by her husband (Charles Boyer). When she sells them to pay off debts, her husband buys them back to give to his mistress who, in her turn, sells the earrings, and they wind up in the hands of a diplomat (Vittorio De Sica) on his way to France. He will give them as a gift to his lover, a certain Madame de . . . . This story of a life compromised by a pair of earrings is, for many, Max Ophuls’s masterpiece; Pauline Kael had one word for it: “Perfection.” Ophuls, his camera set to the tempo of a waltz, lifts a deceptively lavish screen to expose the hypocrisies of married love and the bitter aftertaste of romance. Boyer was never better than as the husband lost to a love he understands all too well, and Darrieux embodies the Belle Époque woman, the passionate waste of a soul.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Marcel Achard, Ophuls, Annette Wademant, from a novel by Louise de Vilmorin. Photographed by Christian Matras. With Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, Vittorio De Sica, Jean Debucourt. (105 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Janus Films/Criterion Collection)