Written by: Marcel Achard, Max Ophüls, Annette Wademant
Starring: Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, Vittorio De Sica, Jean Debucourt
Objects have the tendency to take a sentimental value for the people owning it. For example, the expensive ring I used to propose marriage to my wife will forever have that attachment and value no matter how much the price of diamonds rise and dip in the markets. Objects on their own do not express emotions but it can certainly evoke them as seen in the scintillating The Earrings of Madame De.
During the Belle Époque period of French history, people spent far more than they could afford, which prompts the aristocratic Louise (Danielle Darrieux) to sell the lavish earring her husband purchased for her to pay off debts. These earrings follow these characters as it continually gets bought and sold to different parties right at the center of Louse’s turmoil.
Getting a gift receipt has never been more important than in the entertaining and ultimately tragic The Earrings of Madame De…, as it shows how many times a pair of earrings can get bought and sold by the same group of people. As silly as it may be to follow the number of times this piece of jewelry gets shuffled by these financially careless individuals, it displays a carousel of relationships getting formed and no matter how much these characters attempt to eradicate them, it just keeps coming back. The first occurrence where the earrings get sold comes from Louise trying to get some money to pay debts. She secretly sells it back to the original jeweler and pretends to have lost it at the theatre. This sets up the sequence of events where the earrings get sold and purchased, but more importantly, it shows the deception and dishonesty about to take over the story.
None of the characters in this story remain honest throughout and their interaction with the earrings serves as instances of deception on their part. No one gets richer from the entire exchange than the original jeweler, who probably made enough as the middleman for many of these transactions to most likely retire. With each transaction involving the earring, there could have been an honest conversation about the situations occurring with these characters and as a result, they would have saved themselves the heartache and the financial liability.
With this being a drama about aristocrats, it demonstrates how much they speak through financial means and the power it brings them in moments of tension. It allows them to escape conflict if they have a financial way of avoiding it. They live a lifestyle of vanity where appearances matter more than the actual relationships themselves. This idea explains why the elaborate ways the jewelry gets sold begins to get silly, as they need to create this intricate scheme of it getting lost or being mysteriously found as all part of some ruse to excuse why these people cannot be honest with the people around them.
The tragedy of the movie gets felt the most by Louise as the whole story revolves around her. The film begins with her getting ready for a night out and she opens her closets to decide what to wear and how to accessorize. Following her is the camera as it aligns with what she looks at and eventually lands on her trying on the different earrings. At this moment she shows the most honesty she ever does in the entire story where she sees the earrings and decides they are hers and she can do what she wants with them. Something she believes but then gets complicated when things go off the rails, gets involved with another man, and realizes she may not have as much control as it appeared when first looking at her jewelry. Even with her deception, Louise remains a sympathetic character partly because of the performance by the great Danielle Darrieux. She creates an electric screen presence where the camera can simply follow her and it remains captivating with not much happening narratively.
As a first exposure to the works of Max Ophüls, he creates a neverending experience of seeing just how many times these individuals will sell this jewelry, and when all of the deception will finally cease. With reputations at stake and marital vows being broken, the relational mess created by Louse and her husband gets embroiled where hypocrisy reigns. A wonderful classic to watch in order to take in the attitudes of the people in this age and how many of them sold the earrings for debts they got from gambling. Not the best odds, I suppose.