Madame de

Madame de (Max Ophüls, 1953)

Max Ophüls is the kind of director that could induce the greatest dose of romance without even being over the top. His film, Madame de sure demonstrates this in his remarkable mastery of perfect framing and camera movement. On every aspect Ophüls’ picture is the work of a genius, the story, the technical skills, the score, and the performances form a complete ensemble.

This is a magnificent demonstration of a well balanced masterpiece, everything has been concocted and shaped like a great work of art. The elliptic story, an Ophüls trademark, the multileveled dialogues and the subtle and graceful performances by Danielle Darrieux, Vittorio De Sica, and Charles Boyer complete the period drama that is Madame de. It is indeed appropriate to evoke the fact that this film is a piece of Art and not just another movie. The last two films of Max Ophüls; Madame de and Lola Montès are blissful demonstrations of perfection in the seventh Art. Medialfilm, a well respected institution that rates films since almost fifty years in the province of Québec placed it amongst the masterpieces of Cinema. Of the thousands of thousands films ever rated, only about 150 received this ultimate distinction.

Set in the late 19th Century, this drama tells the hypocrisy of the bourgeois milieu in French aristocracy. Even if many think that this period is not interesting, the film sure makes it enjoyable and amazing. Ophüls’ approach and his uncanny storytelling couldn’t be more well suited to illustrate the mystery around the countess Louise, aka Madame de, and her motivations. The story plays with the viewer so much that at some point we even get mixed up into the many lies that surrounds the lives of our three protagonists. Without being completely endearing the viewer is transposed in the story as if he were an omnipresent mute character that follows quietly the action. This involvement is represented by the sumptuous movements of the camera that captivates the audience into the plot.

Overall, Madame de is a strong cinematic achievement amongst the highly regarded career of Max Ophüls. The Switzerland born cineaste has made movies in America but offered the best of his oeuvre while in France during the 1950’s. It is hard to designate what is his greatest film but Madame de stands as easily in his Top 3. A masterpiece of good taste.

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