Max Ophuls’ tale of extramarital dalliances amongst posh bored Parisians and the potential consequences thereof gets a lovely new dual format Blu-ray and DVD release from the BFI.
Paris in the early nineteenth century. Louise (Danielle Darrieux) needs money to pay off debts, although she and her General husband (Charles Boyer) seem to be doing very well throughout the rest of the film & what these debts are exactly for is never explained. Unable to part with her extensive collection of fur coats she opts instead for a pair of earrings her hubby gave her on her wedding day.
The jeweller who buys them promptly sells them back to her husband, who gives them to his dolly bird Lola as a parting gift as he makes sure she’s on the Train Of No Return For Affairs One Is Now Bored With. Lola blows all her money on a massively depressing game of roulette (we see the number 13 a lot just to emphasise that) & has to sell the earrings. They are bought by Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio de Sica) who gives them to the woman he wants to get busy with who just happens to be Louise.
A film of amazing camerawork, excellent screen compositions and great creativity, (film students probably have to write essays about it) MADAME DE... is, unfortunately, rather hard going story wise. None of the characters are sympathetic or easy to engage with. You get the feeling you are supposed to feel sorry for Danielle Darrieux’s spoilt, bored, rich Comtesse, regularly clutching her jewels and looking sad because she can’t fool around with the Baron because her husband keeps popping up, but you end up wondering why you should care about her at all. As such, despite some bits of breathtaking technique, the end result of this just isn’t as satisfying as perhaps it was back in 1953, when cinema audiences might have held the leads in different regard.
The BFI’s HD transfer of MADAME DE is crisp and in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Extras include Dominque Maillet’s 2013 documentary Max Ophuls: le peintre de l’amour fatal - a 61 minute film about the director and the making of MADAME DE which also features interviews, and Working with Max Ophuls, which is a 22 minute interview with director Alain Jessua (TRAITMENT DE CHOC) about training under the director.
Finally, you get an illustrated booklet with reprint essays by Laura Mulvey (from Film Quarterly 2009), Adrian Danks (from Senses of Cinema 2003), a 1954 review of the film by Lindsay Anderson, a 1950 interview with Ophuls and Peter Ustinov’s tribute from Sight & Sound in 1957.
Max Ophuls' MADAME DE... is out now in a dual format release from the BFI