‘The Earrings of Madame de…’ – Max Ophuls’ romantic classic on Max and Criterion Channel

The European films of Max Ophuls are elaborate dances of romance and seduction in a world of social constraints and fickle lovers and The Earrings of Madame de… (France, 1953) is the most elegant of these melancholy waltzes.

Danielle Darrieux is the Countess, the frivolous wife of a cultured diplomat (Charles Boyer). Trapped by mutual consent in a loveless marriage, she wiles her days spending herself into debt and evenings flirting with silly young suitors, while her husband dallies with his mistress. The veil of respectability that protects this perfect relationship of lies and indulgence is torn away by a pair of earrings she secretly sells to cover debts and her husband buys back for his mistress. In a circularity so loved by Ophuls, the jewels travel back to Madame as a present from a suitor whose attentions are too serious to be dismissed by her husband.

Darrieux plays the Countess as a supremely poised actress who stages her own personal dramas for effect and Boyer gives the most delicate and nuanced performance of his career as the General, the very picture of a society gentleman at ease with social convention and manners. Vittorio De Sica, a master filmmaker in his own right, is suave and serious as the Italian diplomat who romances the married Countess.

Ophuls choreographs as much as he directs and his camera is both an intimate part of the dance and a distant observer of inevitable tragedy. And in contrast to the affection he carries for the frustrated lovers of La Ronde, Ophuls is rather cool toward these characters, as if he pities their shallow facades. Madame is less overwhelmed by passion than enthralled by the idea of love; it’s only in the absence of her attentive lover that her perfect comportment collapses while her husband is propelled into action more by social expectation than jealousy.

Ophuls’ camera dances through the decor while watching the doomed game play out at a distance, capturing a culture of courtly manners petrified into meaningless ritual. It is exquisite.

It earned an Oscar nomination for costume design and placed in the number 90 spot in the 2022 Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll.

Visit Parallax View for a review of the Criterion Collection Blu-ray and an essay from 2008.

In French with English subtitles, black and white

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Earrings of Madame de… (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
The Earrings of Madame de… (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

Don’t miss a single recommendation. Subscribe to the Stream On Demand weekly newsletter (your E-mail address will not be shared) and follow us on Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter).


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

Related posts