Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Best Movie I Saw This Week: Madame de...

This was also a heavy week with a lot of heavy-weights as Haneke, Bergman or Kalatozov but my pick for the weeks belongs to Ophüls. Madame de... (Max Ophüls, 1953) is wonderful.

As the title in English suggests, the movie follows a pair of earrings that take on very different meanings according to the context (so polysemic, as David put it). The first time we see them is because a Countess (a magnificent Danielle Darrieux) is considering selling them to pay off some debts she has. She is presented as a frivolous and somewhat vain woman who prefers to hold on to her furs than to the earrings that her husband (Charles Boyer) gave her as a wedding present. She pretends to have lost them in an elaborate act that shows how good an actress she is. The conflict starts when the jeweller (after promising he would not) tells on her to her husband who buys the earrings again. This time, he gives her to his lover, a woman who gambles them convinced that number 13 is going to be lucky for her. This scene, where she is gambling is a departure from the main plotline and reminded me of the movies of Wong Kar-wai in the sense that we could have an entire movie devoted to this secondary character because it is treated with such interest and care. Baron Donati buys the earrings and, as fate would have it, ends up falling in love with the Countess Louise and gives her the earrings. She has to play an act with his husband as to why she has found the earrings. He, however, understands everything and forces her to give them to a relative. Husband and lover duel and as the Countess runs toward them she hears only a shot, which means that Donati is dead.

I just love how the movie plays with the main character's acting. She mentions that she is a bad liar when in fact, we are seeing her being an expert at it. The exception is a moment that recalls Anna Karenina, where she cannot hide her fear that Donati is hurt.

The film is not only interesting thematically, it is a visual feast. The long takes are breathtaking and the movements of the camera are as elegant as the people it follows. In terms of production it is as rich as can be. The art direction and the costumes are wonderful. In fact, its only nomination for the Oscars was for its costumes, showing that, already in the fifties, that branch was willing to look at deserving films even if they were not obvious frontrunners. The performances are also excellent with Danielle Darrieux, Ophüls muse, being the clear standout. After all she is Madame de...

Other movies I saw this week:
Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014)
Grace of Monaco (Olivier Dahan, 2014)
The Cranes Are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957)
10.000 Km (Carlos Marques-Marcet, 2014)
Cinderella Liberty (Mark Rydell, 1973)
Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)
Cimarron (Wesley Ruggles, 1931)
The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

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