Not that ling ago, people didn’t marry for love. Men were chosen specifically as providers and for security; women were chosen as trophies and for breeding. It seems arcane in the 21st century where we all seem to have our own complex matrix of what we want in a partner, but the fact of the matter is that marrying for love is a fairly new concept.
Because of that, history is littered with stories that turn infidelity into expressions of true love. Well, most of the time. Other times what you get is grown adults lying to each other, and giving themselves over to others in the name of extravagance, shallowness, or both.
THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE… is about Madame Louise, a French aristocrat. When we first meet her, she has arranged to quietly sell some very expensive earrings given to her as a wedding gift by her husband, General Andre.
Through a wild series of co-incidences, these trinkets will be sold and re-bought several times before the film is over. One big reason for this is Madame Louise’s lush lifestyle, one that far outruns her means (which, itself, is vast). Another reason is that Madame Louise is being courted in her husbands absence…or sometimes, just when his back happens to be turned. Indeed, Madame Louise is the object of Italian baron Donati. Their affair is tumultuous, passionate, and full of infatuation…which isn;t that far off what she’s getting from her marriage. The key difference is that the baron is there; the general is not.
Throughout her hook-ups and break-ups, her meetings and partings, Madame’s earrings are never far away…and always seem to find their way back like a bad penny, and uncover another one of Madame Louise’s lies.
It’s amazing the sort of situations we can get ourselves into with material want.
All of us are guilty now and then of looking at the next table in the restaurant, or at the neighbours across the street and seeing something others have that we don’t. We see these trinkets and status symbols and feel like we should have them too. So we end up lusting over them…pining after them. Somehow, we feel like they will make us more complete. But what truly happens? We become surrounded by “things”, that’s what.
One day we are wishing we had the designer labels and the pretty baubles, the next we have no more closet space left to store it and no more occasions to wear them to. We aren’t better people than we were before we received these gifts (or, better yet, bought them for ourselves), but we feel more superior being surrounded by them.
When we meet Madame Louise, she is surrounded by material possessions. We aren’t introduced to her so much as we are introduced to what she owns…her gowns, her gloves, her jewels. She is what she owns: pretty and stylish, but overindulgent and approaching being out-of-fashion.
What if she was less interested in racking up debt and shopping, and more interested in contributing to society? Might she have met a more suitable husband? Might she have more to offer the world? Might she be less prone to selling her trinkets to cover her amassing debt? On the bright side, she seems to get everything she could ever want…the only cost is a great deal of lying.
One would like to say that times have changed dramatically since the era of Madame Louise. One would like to say that nobody would have such a lust to be lavished with gifts, or even consider hawking them for monetary relief. Certainly nobody would be so thoughtless as to take something special like a wedding gift and pass it over for a few notes in their pocket, right?
Of course, the wild thing about all of this selfishness, deceit, and materialism, is that Ophüls captures it so damned splendidly.
There is gorgeous symmetry in this film – evoking the way both male and female are jointly complicit in this affair. There is gorgeous fluidity in the way the camera moves about the film. It seems to evoke the way some believe they can drift above the confines of reality, and keep their of selfish ruse going night-in and night-out. It also brings to mind the way the well-to-do are able to glide from room to room, from place to place. From their dressing mirror to a swank dinner to an evening of dancing and back again. Every door opens, every table is waiting, every crowd parts. Hours turn into days, days turn into weeks.
Capping it all off there is great use of glass and reflections. Back to that moment we first meet Madame Louise, we don’t see her (even after we are shown her every gown and shoe)…we see her reflection. People such as these live and breathe vanity. They want to keep one eye on their own appearance and want everyone else to be able to see them too. Ophüls knows this and constantly has them surrounded by their own reflections, or under glass like a fine specimen.
Such beautiful depiction of such horrible people.
The moment that perhaps amazed me the most is this especially amazing film is one where our heroine tears up a letter and scatters it out the moving train window until it blends in with the blowing snow. The scraps of paper swirl and billow, taking with them every nefarious confession of want…ever memory of a an adulterous deception.
Besides the fact that the shot itself is a beautiful cinematic trick, what makes this moment stand out to me is the way it seems to be the one time Madame Louise doesn’t become so all-consumed by her lust that she clings tight to the evidence of her trysts. She writes down her thoughts to her lover and then throws them away; like an alcoholic taking a deep whiff of an open liquor bottle but not taking a sip.
I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Madame Louise had taken such an approach to her romantic rendezvous. Like the falling snow, this feeling of want is fleeting. It is at first beautiful and piercing, but quickly becomes messy before ultimately melting away. Had she only allowed herself a glimpse…a taste…an expression put to paper but never sent…perhaps she wouldn’t have gotten herself into such a mess.
“Look, but don’t touch”….isn’t that the rule? What happens if more people like Madame Louise followed it?
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for November so far…
Beatrice watched THE SOUND OF MUSIC
James watched MAGNOLIA
Keisha watched PERSONA
Josh watched A CANTERBURY TALE
Natasha watched THE PRESTIGE
Katie watched CASABLANCA
Chris watched PATTON
Brittani watched BRINGING UP BABY
Sean watched PRECIOUS
Steven watched SUNRISE