DVD Review: A farce that becomes melodrama

This 1953 French classic — the penultimate work of director Max Ophuls ("Letter from an Unknown Woman," "Lola Montes") — stars Danielle Darrieux as a spoiled Parisian noblewoman married to General de ... (Charles Boyer). The two are worldly and sophisticated to the point of decadence: He indulges in affairs while she shops to excess. When her debts get the better of her, madame has to sell off a pair of earrings given to her by her husband. She makes up an excuse to explain their disappearance but through a series of plot contrivances, the earrings keep returning. Each reappearance exposes old lies and provokes new ones. When Madame falls in love with her husband's friend the baron (Vittorio de Sica), what might have been a frothy farce is quickly revealed as dire melodrama.

From the long opening subjective shot, Ophuls' style is near its most ornate — the subsequent "Lola Montes" probably takes the prize — but the style is only part of what makes the film work. The director always got perfect performances, even from imperfect actors; Boyer, Darrieux and De Sica are perfectly controlled.

The image in this edition — remastered from a 2012 restoration — is a substantial improvement over the 1994 restoration. Film scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar provide a detailed commentary track with a frequent feminist focus. There is also an "introduction" from filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson ("Magnolia," "The Master"), that really is more of a "selected scenes" commentary; i.e., he narrates over roughly 15 clips. There are also interviews with three Ophuls collaborators totaling 40 minutes. An accompanying booklet includes two essays plus, best of all, the entirety of the source novella by Louise de Vilmorin. Vilmorin also appears in an amusing five-minute interview from 1965 in which she dismisses the film as simply dreadful.

"The Earrings of Madame de..." (Criterion, Blu-ray, 39.95)

ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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