No zombies or giant man-eating sandworms for me this weekend. I’ll pass over Juan of the Dead (Cuba’s first zombie movie) and Dune, David Lynch’s version of the Frank Herbert science-fiction novel, for Max Ophuls’s exquisite 1953 gem, The Earrings of Madame De… at the Cleveland Cinematheque.
Thinking this movie was based on a Guy de Maupassant story, I just reread “The Necklace,” which you, like me, may have read in junior high–a surprise-ending, O. Henry kind of story (only more elegant) about a couple who go bankrupt trying to pay the debt for a lost necklace. It has the same witty tone as Madame de…, but (zut alors!) this is a red herring! With a little research, I find instead that Madame de… is based on a novel by Marie Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin, who, interestingly and irrelevantly, was once engaged to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince.
OK, I’m getting a little off track.
Madame de…is entertaining, suspenseful, clever, elegant, and touching. Danielle Darrieux is one of the most beautiful, graceful, subtle actresses you’ll ever see. Charles Boyer deftly plays her wise and sophisticated husband. The great Italian director Vittorio de Sica is a baron obsessed with honor. These three performances alone make this movie worth seeing.
There’s also the direction. When we were dating, John used to educate me about movies on our long drives from our hometown Canton to Cleveland, and that’s how I learned to associate the phrase “moving camera” with Max Ophuls. In this film, the camera glides through hallways and gardens, follows dancers at a ball, and glances over the characters’ revealing expressions. Seeing this movie helps you understand what “direction” is all about. The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael began her review, “Perfection.”
These screenings honor the eminent film critic Andrew Sarris, who died this summer and who, having seen most of the movies every made, called Madame de… his favorite film. Cleveland Institute of Art President Grafton Nunes, who knew Sarris, will introduce the film on Friday night at 7:00. It also shows Saturday, 10/13, at 5:15.
Another French film this weekend, Unforgivable, tempts me a little bit, because it looks intriguing and suspenseful and starts Carole Bouquet, another stunning French actress I remember from That Obscure Object of Desire and other films. But it looks a little too thrilling for my delicate sensibilities.
I can enthusiastically recommend Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, also showing this weekend. If you haven’t seen any films in this series, get to at least one. Take your kids and your grandkids if you have them. But you don’t need kids to enjoy Miyazaki.