Madame De Essay, Research Paper
The film Madame de, directed by Max Ophuls is perfection. This tragedy of love, which begins in narcissistic flirtation and passes from romance to passion, to desperation, is set, ironically, in aristocratic circles that seem too superficial to take love tragically. Everything from the writing, casting, direction, photography and finally to editing is flawless. It is an example of a film done right, an example of a director with a vision, and the choices he makes to execute his vision.
The performances by Danielle Darrieux as Madame de, by Charles Boyer as her husband, Monsieur de, a general, and by Vittorio De Sica as her lover, the Baron, are all superb. Oph ls’ lush, decorative style, and his darting, swirling camera are used to evoke the protection that style and manners and wealth provide, and to demonstrate that passion can destroy it all.
In Madame de there occurs a rather intricate merger of complex, even dazzling, camera work with a thematic idea revolving around mankind’s obsession with material objects. In order to establish this union, Ophuls creates a narrative framework based upon a notion of circularity in which Madame de’s earrings, being material, remain constant while the changing emotional situations of their various possessors continuously alter the earrings’ symbolic implications. Ultimately, they emerge as a badge of love and as the harbinger of domestic tragedy. The fundamental element in this clash between what is best described as a relentless unfolding of events and the deliberate stasis represented by the earrings, is performed by Ophuls’ tracking camera as it juxtaposes intimate and dramatic shots to reveal both theme and character.
Supporting this technique is an extremely poised delineation of the film’s narrative materials to create a delicate balance between the lush, luxuriant atmosphere conveyed by the settings in which the events unfold and the camera technique used to record them.
This interplay is strikingly displayed in the film’s opening scene, in which the camera follows a woman’s hand as it glides along a rack of expensive clothes in a lavishly appointed wardrobe and then, without a pause, clings to the woman as she admires a pair of earrings in the mirror of her dressing table. In one long take, Ophuls thus establishes a world of extravagant material possessions and then focuses on the frivolous, silly woman who seems to be a part of them as she sits reflected in the mirror.
The viewer never learns Madame de’s full name (although her first name is Louise). Piieces of material obscure it on dance cards and street noises drown it out when it is spoken. Yet this is of no importance. She represents a particular character-type that Ophuls wishes the viewer to consider. The wife of the French General Andre de, living in Paris, she is a frivolous woman who squanders large sums of money in supporting certain whims that she pursues without her husband’s knowledge. Having ammased significant debts, she subsequently takes the earrings that she admired in the film’s opening shot and sells them to a jeweler. The earrings pass hands, from back to the general, to his mistress, then to the Baron whom Madame de falls in love with, and finally returns full circle as the Baron gives them to her to show his love. Finally, with the changing emotional fortunes of the parties involved, the unchanging objects, the earrings, have become symbolic of a serious love.
Upon learning of his wife’s extramarital affair, the general challenges the Baron to a duel, but Madame de, trying to stop them, dies, and the general takes the earrings and places them on an altar, and the final image is that of the earrings.
MADAME DE is a progression from frivolity to destruction, chronicled through a supple flow of glittering images. It is a relentless procession of time and event leading to the story’s inevitable climax.
In the sequence of ballroom dances that form the heart of the picture, the camera plays against the sumptuous surroundings to create a vortex of time that embodies Madame de’s progress from frivolity to tragedy without her ever changing the tempo of her dance. This juxtaposition of change and constancy parallels the changing emotional value of the materially unchanging earrings as they float from hand to hand. With the baron, she dances round and round through one elegant ballroom after another under the constant gaze of the encircling camera, which reveals the progressively deepening feelings of the couple as they move through the social calendar. Finally, as they glide through the last dance in the sequence, the air of frivolity recedes. The camera, in one long, continuous take, follows a servant in one of the ballrooms as he moves slowly from light to light, snuffing out each in turn. He finally blankets the entire scene in darkness as he throws a cover over a harp. The song
is now over. The dalliance has become romance and love will become tragedy.
Ophuls pulls the entire work together into a film of poised balance through his control of tone and his extraordinary camera movement. The various opposing strains are nearly resolved in an understated manner compatible with the characters’ concepts of honor and grace. The result is a masterful tragedy of a failed romance. Ophuls has also created a classic tragedy in the sense that Madame de’s hubris in believing that she could get away with pawning her jewelry to pay her frivolous debts is eventually punished by her own death, caused indirectly by the earrings, the materialistic representation of her pride and vulnerability.