Thursday, March 22, 2007

The delectable Madame De...

One week left to see Max Ophuls' masterpiece, The Earrings of Madame De... , at New York's Film Forum, which is showcasing a ravishing new 35mm print through March 29. Janus Films has it for theatrical release, which means a long-overdue Criterion Collection DVD may finally be in the offing, but, as Anthony Lane says in this week's New Yorker, there is no excuse for missing it at the movies.

I first saw Madame De... (1953) at an Ophuls retrospective that the Film Society of Lincoln Center held in 2002. Many noteworthy titles were shown (I recall taking in Le Plaisir and Letter From an Unknown Woman, and had just seen The Reckless Moment, remade as 2001's The Deep End, around the same time) but Madame De... quite simply devastated me. It starts out like a fable of frivolous upper-crust lives in 19th century Paris, then deepens into gale-force tragedy, without you ever really sensing it to the very final shots. My breath was literally taken from me. Much the same thing happened to me last night, and Lora had the same reaction. A simply stunning film.

Afterwards, I was wondering why no one seems to have attempted a stage musical of the material. It lends itself very well to the form. But it is pure cinema--Christian Matras' restless camera, alighting precisely where it needs to be at all times, is as much a character as its trio of fate-bound characters, faultlessly enacted by Danielle Darrieux (90 years old on May 1, and still working), Charles Boyer (never better), and Vittorio De Sica. Though it has ballroom sequences, it may be musical enough without songs.

Andrew Sarris has called Madame De... (its original title; The Earrings was added for the US) the greatest film of all time. reported that Meryl Streep had a look last Saturday afternoon. If it's good enough for Sarris and Streep, it's good enough for you.

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