14 December 2011

Madame de


I recently watched Max Ophuls'  1951 masterpiece The Earrings of Madame de . . . Having seen the film-and read the book Madame de years ago after I fell in love with the fabric Verrieres - many of you will get the connection, there are dots always. If these dots are skewed- read this little augury post here and then hurry back.   

Both the book by Louise de Vilmorin and the film stand up today. Ophuls' use of the camera-all discussed on the dvd extras needed to help deepen our intellectual understanding of the film. 
Often I think- oh yeah- Now I see, but wouldn't it be better to view some of these extras first? 
Do you? 
No- why then we see too much of the movie.
You'll be surprised to see Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) in the restored version's extras. He is a big fan of Ophuls'.


In Ophulus' 1951 version of Madame de, Madame de played by Danielle Darrieux, the lady is forced to sell her earrings to manage her terrible rise in cost of living. Husband, Charles Boyer, is very generous- but not so much that his beautifully cunning wife can make ends meet. The story follows along  the lines you might expect & it's only after the film that I have the full appreciation I should. As one of my reader's suggested-I should stick to topics more familiar (read- better equipped to discuss) than the critique of a cinematic masterpiece, so I am keeping this one right on the surface.

I was struck by the resemblance of the actress Danielle Darrieux to the author Vilmorin. The actress is prettier-much more beautiful-of course, but still... (Louise de Vilmorin at left, Darrieux at right)  The opening scene in the movie is perhaps the best-from Opulent to Narcissistic- Opulent and Narcissistic & back again and again. It is beautiful, in fact I watched it a dozen times at least before returning it.

Madame de, so fond of her furs, “I’m too fond of them,” settles on pawning a pair of earrings her husband gave her. So much for the Husband. She lingers over a Bible with a flippant, “I need that more than ever," and she will- certainly- before the movie ends.

As I revisit the movie (film) stills- Danielle Darrieux is stunning-each of these images a perfect portrait. Vittorio de Sica, (below) as Baron Fabrizio Donati, is gorgeous too. No?

the BOOK (novel)

I suggest you read the book & the author does too. 
below-transcribed  are comments (worth the rental of the flick or price of the film itself) by the author Louise de Vilmorin:

You think I write love stories?
I don’t think so
They’re stories in which love intrudes.
I don’t know but I think love is important
After all, love is a kind of inspiration

When we’re in love we take action
Love makes us do things
It is an odd question

Who among us would claim that love doesn’t exist?
That it’s not a wonderful motivation? The famous “transports of love!”

I don’t consider Madame de a love story. Love happens to be a part of the story, but it’s not a love story.
It’s a story of boastful pride.
I’m not really very interested in women. I’m actually a bit of a misogynist. So many women have ben cruel to me I keep my guard up. It’s only natural.

As for Madame de, as I see it, they bought the title, but they didn’t adapt the book. Nothing in Madam de is the way it should be!

It’s like receiving a pretty box marked “silk stockings” You open it and discover a pair of nail clippers. No! The label is a lie.

Madame de… is all wrong! They didn’t get one thing right. It’s a different social world, a different city, a different time. 
It’s all wrong. Madame de takes place in Vienna around 1938-1939. Her husband is a man like Baron de Valnere, or Mr Boussac, who has racehorses. They don’t go to the office. Men like that still exist. Wealthy men with a chateau in the country who look after their lands and have pretty wives. And since pretty wives always spend more than they admit, she falls into debt. She doesn’t dare tell him, because he’s so generous with her, so she sells her earrings. All that takes place in a world that really exists. To transform her husband into a general from the early 1900s totally astounds me. 
Besides, he’s not realistic! I don’t know many generals, or many military men in general but how many generals would buy their wives the same expensive diamonds four times in a row? The jeweler is a skinny man with white curtains in his windows. In my story it was Mr. Cartier. It’s all wrong!
In the book, Madame de dies because she commits a great indiscretion. In the film she dies of a blow to the heart. The diamonds are being laid at the Virgin’s feet. I’m all for offering everything to the Virgin, but it’s not in the story!
Two-horse coupes are used for funerals. The general sees his girlfriend off  at the train station in white gloves and a kepi with an oak-leaf design.It’s just not done, and it’s not in the book. He’s not a general, Madame de… isn’t his little wife, the ambassador doesn’t fight a duel. It’s all wrong! So of course I’m complaining. It’s wrong.

Besides the movie’s boring. 
Max Ophuls, who made the film, read me an adaptation he’d written that I found absolutely delightful. But the producers at the time thought his choices were perhaps not commercial enough. My dear, dear friend Marcel Achard wrote the dialogue, but still, he changed everything.

Vilmorin's commentary takes place in and on the grounds of her home Verrieres and through most of the interview she is beating time with a stick in the way someone would a fine riding crop or a magic wand (angrily of course). 
Formidable. Very Formidable.


 Madame de... , c,2001, another attempt by Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe, this Madame de stars the equally beautiful and gorgeous Carole Bouquet and Jean-Pierre Marielle
At least the era is as Vilmorin intended.

Take 4
in the Flesh

photograph by Cecil Beaton in 1955

Truth be told- Nothing is as interesting as own Vilmorin's story. She was engaged early on to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince.  She was Louise Levesque heiress, author, paramour to the  very rich and or famous & the most noted chatelaine of her family Castle/Chateau de Vilmorin in Verrieres-le-Busisson. Though she lived many places the family home remained her domain- as six doting brothers assured her. The main salon of the house was deliciously smothered in the cotton print now widely known as Verrieres. She was considered by most, Louise included, as Queen of Literary Paris and hosted Berbard Buffet, our director, Max Ophuls and Leo Ferre every Sunday night for dinner at the real Verrieres.

 the Room, the Fabric

Twice married, first to American real estate heir Henry Leigh Hunt, Louise lived in Vegas with her husband for a time-giving birth to three daughters. Playboy Count Paul Pálffy ab Erdöd was husband number II and Louise was called mistress to Count Paul Esterházy de Galántha, Duff Cooper, Orson Welles and Prince Ali Khan and Andre Malraux.
Many more, no doubt.

In 2009,(NYTimes) Christopher Petkanas wrote: With her long face, her long, thin, ungainly body and an overbite that the gap in her teeth did nothing to improve, Vilmorin was alluring but not pretty. She did not even have the consolation of being a jolie laide. “Still unbeautiful in her 40s,” judged Betsy Prioleau, whose six pages on Vilmorin in her book “Seductress” are worth more than all of Wagener’s 548. It didn’t seem to matter, though. Men were enslaved by her teasing sorcery, her Surrealist word games, the ribald stories she told, the scribbling of poems on dinner napkins. Not to mention the briskly minted bons mots. “I have no faith in my fidelity,” Vilmorin once proclaimed. Taking leave of her guests when living with Welles, she confided, “I’m going to fulfill my conjugal duty.” To Welles she promised, “Darling, tonight I’ll love you forever.” Feminists were a “herd of vain she-asses.” (Petkanas linked throughout the text)

Oh, for a film I could critique, LOUISE DE..., wonder what Louise would say?
She-ass perhaps-though I am not a feminist, nor film critic.

the earrings of madame De at Criterion here


  1. I hate those video ads-however L is charming, so worth it. Though she did walk with a slight limp it seems-the walking stick is definitely being used to punctuate her animated diatribe. PGT

  2. I love the movie version to death... I've been meaning to read the original novel for quite some time but haven't been able to hunt down the lovely folio edition. And reading Vilmorin's rant about the movie just now makes me less likely to read it. "Madame de dies because she commits a great indiscretion"... doesn't have the same appeal compare to the movie.

  3. I liked the movie Ophuls made (remembering how de Sica accepted these parts to finance his neo-realist projects), and although I haven't lately seen it, I felt it had integrity. It seems possibly a pity more of too many egos than of too much (setting aside opinions on the sanctity of the book), that the film invited comparison with a single text. "D'après..." would have been just fine, I suppose, from all points of interest?

    The problem of translation (as you haven't asserted) is not only one of superficial authenticity. Authenticity, itself (whatever that is) is truly hazardous in cinema, and needs a knowing hand. This you certainly demonstrate, without having to admit to critical faculties. :)

    A very interesting presentation, ruinously generous of course. Particularly as I shall have to purchase the earring of reading it through again.

  4. All fascinating, and news to me that Louise de Vilmorin disapproved
    of Ophul's film which the great Pauline Kael called "Perfection".
    It does make me want to take that slender novel down from my shelves,
    dust it off and reread it. It was translated by Duff Cooper, by the way.

  5. Vilmorin and Verrieres! Loved this. Always fascinating posts Gaye, well researched and intriguing- I want to read the book and play surrealists word games.Thank you for creating such superlative posts. A delight.

  6. Oh dear, Not a feminist?! Quelle domage - a woman of your obvious brilliance & sensibilities!
    Seriously, how could you not support women's equality. Did you listen to the speeches of our three new Nobel Peace Laureates?

  7. Your post on Madame de___ led me to locate that slender volume,
    published in 1952, British edition, translated by Duff Cooper, blurb
    by none other than V. Sackville West. And once it was in my hands I found myself staring at the cover illustration of a decidedly 1880s woman reclining on a chaise longue. The frontispiece has a colourful image of a great lady attired in late nineteenth century mode, and throughout the book there are spidery ink drawings by Ian Ribbons, all of them establishing a period tone and the period is not, as Louise de Vilmorin attests, the late 1930s. Bearing in mind that the translator had
    been Louise de Vilmorin's lover, one would have expected the illustrations to respect the author's intent, though this could easily be another example of Louise de Vilmorin's well known perversity. Not an
    easy woman, Louise; and someone whom Evelyn Waugh thought of in terms of witchcraft and spells.

  8. Laurent,I want to read your piece today. I don't know much about de Sica, did know about his neo-realism- I would like to know more! So true about the problem of translation- and we are conditioned to Strasberg's actors today. I do love Drama and a killing glance though. pgt

  9. Elle, the movie is good- and as said watching the extras in the restored version give deeper appreciation to Ophulus. Louise does rant, oh she does rant. pgt

  10. Philip, thank you, Vilmorin- The Movie. Why there hasn't been one. So-let's start a film development co! Wouldn't we have a brilliant Prop Room. pgt

  11. Ann- I have no claim to one cause more than another- I am alas an equal opportunity believer in Equality for Man. Women-indeed have much to be proud of and much to Do in order to be equal. pgt

  12. Mr Worthington, I have a reprint as I have shown here of the purple cover. the Smaller L. book is actually one of her own in. wonders never cease I found a ed. for less than $12 with the cover you refer too. And I believe in witches and spells! pgt

  13. A wonderful post. Is the book cover shown here illustrated by Ian Ribbons? Movie stills and Verrieres, love. Must watch while still in recline mode, trying not to rant!

  14. B. oh do, and as "instructed" all the extras in the remaster. holly and ivy penned on the cast, still on? PGT



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