Part Of The Picture: A Lesson in Valuables

Posted on September 10, 2010



SEP 11, 2010 – THE STRANGE LITTLE STORY OF MADAME DE… (whose last name is never revealed to us) pivots on a pair of diamond earrings given by her husband, Général André de…, as a wedding present. Early on in the film, as established by the opening sequence, these earrings mean little to her. She needs money, so she sells them to Mr. Rémy, a jeweller, and the earrings eventually find their way into the hands of her future lover, Baron Fabrizio Donati. And much later, when he gifts them back to her, these earrings come to mean the world. This time around, however, her husband – aware of his wife’s extramarital affections – won’t let her keep the earrings, and they end up, again, with Mr. Rémy. So Madame de… hastens to his office with her trusted Nanny.

Once there, Madame de… says, “I must have them. I’ll sell everything to get the money.” (Oh, the irony! When she let go of these earrings at first, selling them to this very jeweller, it was because she was short of money.) She pleads, “Promise you won’t sell them right away, so I can come see them now and then.” Rémy is genuinely puzzled. “I don’t understand,” he says. “Two years ago you were anxious to sell them.” Madame de… explains, “I’m not buying them to wear. In fact, I’ll have to hide them [from my husband]. Isn’t that right, Nanny? I’ll sell my furs. I won’t need them anymore. And my diamond cross and emeralds. What do you say, Mr. Rémy?”

At this point, the earrings are more valuable to Madame de… than her furs, her diamond cross and her emeralds – and this confession harks back to the opening scene, where we see a gloved hand opening a drawer of jewels. The earrings gleam in a corner. “lf only they weren’t the ones he gave me for our wedding,” says Madame de…, beginning to hum as she reaches for a jewel box nearby. “What should I do?” she murmurs. So far, we haven’t set eyes on her. We’ve only heard her voice. The silken languor with which the camera follows her through this minor decision-making process tells us that this is a lady of vast leisure. Madame de…, accordingly, will be unveiled before us in leisurely stages.

The next aspect we see is an extended forearm, as Madame de… opens a cupboard fitted with full-length mirrors. Rows of drawers are revealed, stuffed with possessions. Next, we glimpse her shadow as she opens an adjacent door, this time to reveal rows of dresses. She hums, “All of this won’t get me 20,000 francs.” She moves to the next mirrored door, and we now see her from the waist downwards. She examines her furs. “I refuse to give up my furs. I’m too fond of them.” She moves away and fingers her various hats. A Bible falls from amongst them and lands on her rows of shoes. She picks it up. “My God! I’ve never needed it so much.” This is the shatteringly shallow reason she needs God now, so she can decide which of her possessions to sell.

Clutching the Bible, and now revealing a fairly full side profile, Madame de… picks a hat. She returns to her dressing table and sits in front of the mirror – and we finally see her face, at once reflected in the mirror and trapped in it. There is no depth or dimension to Madame de… – her mirror image is all she is. She places the hat on her head, unfurls the netted veil over her face – humming again – and picks up a necklace. Holding it to her neck, she exclaims, “I’d rather die than give this up.” She picks up a cross. “My cross? No, I adore this cross.” She finally returns to the earrings she examined at the beginning of the scene, with a gloved hand. “I like these the least. After all, they’re mine. I can do with them as I please.” Little does she know, of course, that these least valued of her possessions will come to matter the most.

Madame de… (1953, French; aka The Earrings of Madame de…). Directed by Max Ophüls. Starring Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, Vittorio De Sica.

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign