Madame de... (Directors Suite) (1953)

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Released 18-Aug-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-by Adrian Martin, Senior Research Fellow, Monash University
Interviews-Crew-with assistant director Alain Jessua
Interviews-Crew-with assistant decorator Marc Frederix
Interviews-Crew-with screenwriter Annette Wademant
Trailer-Four Directors Suite trailers
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1953
Running Time 95:50 (Case: 105)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (69:19) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Max Ophüls
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Charles Boyer
Danielle Darrieux
Vittorio De Sica
Jean Debucourt
Jean Galland
Mireille Perrey
Paul Azaïs
Josselin
Hubert Noël
Lia Di Leo
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Oscar Straus
Georges Van Parys


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    At the 1963 New York Film Festival film critic Andrew Sarris famously exclaimed that Max Ophüls' final film, Lola Montes was the greatest film ever made. Naturally, this caused quite a stir, and in the ensuing years, after the film has been restored to it's theatrical length, critics have indeed re-appraised Ophüls' last film prior to his death in 1957. It's not Lola Montes that warrants discussion for this review however, as in the ensuing years Sarris has named Madame de... as the greatest film of all time. (Madman have hinted that Lola Montes will be released by their Directors Suite label in the near future, when that happens we at Michael D will request a review copy from Madman) The Criterion version of Madame de..., released in September 2008, has an essay by Sarris' wife, Molly Haskell, which questions why critics don't rate the film in the same league as Citizen Kane or The Godfather. Haskell states that perhaps greatness means big and as such is a masculine term, and since Ophüls was synonymous with films identified by their lead female roles, perhaps this explains why this film is not as critically valued as the aforementioned films.

    In regards to Citizen Kane and The Godfather, both these films have had a large overt impact on other filmmakers and perhaps this is why they are regarded so highly, despite being well-made films. Madame de..., in my opinion, is also a well-made film with a distinctive auteuristic style. If Alfred Hitchcock was known for his visual style and Jean Renoir for his humanistic themes in his films, Ophüls was appreciated by the Cahiers du cinema critics for both his fluid and mobile camerawork and his themes of the perspective of narrative presented from the lead female character's point of view and repetition of movement and action. In relation therefore to the influence of Ophüls' auteuristic style, it's not so obvious in the work of other filmmakers because of his screenplays which were so distinctive, often set in the 19th century and focusing on the upper class of society, incorporating movement through opera and grand balls. Stanley Kubrick was definitely influenced by Ophüls' work, one can see graceful movement and rotation all throughout 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the theme of actions repeated by different characters in different episodes is also evident in that film too, with the same conflict playing out across different eras in 2001.

    Auteur theory, as developed in the 1950s, regards the director as the principal author of a film, especially if they have had a hand in the screenplay also. Ophüls adaptation of Louise Levêque de Vilmorin novella was criticised by de Vilmorin for its many changes, including the period and place, and for the ending with the duel between the two male lead characters. An interview with Louise Levêque de Vilmorin is included in the Criterion release of Madame de... as is her short story.

    The other important element of why this film is great is the performance of the three leads, Charles Boyer as the General, Danielle Darrieux as the Countess and Vittorio De Sica as the Baron. Film critics Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael rarely saw eye-to-eye in their opinions on film, especially in regards to auteur theory, but in this case both critics have espoused the fine acting in Madame de... from the principal cast. Charles Boyer had just returned from a successful stint in Hollywood, Danielle Darrieux had worked in Ophüls' previous film, Le Plaisir and Vittorio de Sica will be forever known as one of the founding fathers of Italian neo-realism, with Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. considered staple examples of the genre, nevertheless, de Sica was also an accomplished actor as his role in Madame de... as the Baron who falls in love with the Countess testifies.

    The name of the film is sometimes given as The Earrings of Madame de... and this is because this is the title that the film was given by it's US distributors. It is logical, after all the movement of the earrings throughout the film has much attached meaning and symbolism for the various characters, but the title of the film should be correctly rendered as Madame de... as the movement of the earrings from character to character is a secondary plot device in contrast to the plot of the Countess who has no revealed surname in the screenplay and film and therefore is forever trying to assert her identity to her husband and lover in an aristocratic society in which she doesn't belong.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Similarly to the Region 4 release of Le Plaisir, the Region 4 version of Madame de... is a port of the Second Sight Region 2 release from 2006.

    The aspect ratio of the film is 1:33:1 fullscreen. It is not 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

    The image transfer is slightly darker and has more film grain than the Directors Suite Le Plaisir release. The main feature takes up 4.7 gb of a dual-layered DVD, with an average bitrate of 6.7 m/b per sec.

    The black and white contrast is more consistent and does not flicker anywhere near as much as the print of Le Plaisir.

    Film artefacts are more prevalent in this release of Madame de... than other Max Ophüls DVD releases worldwide. These occur at 2:29, 5:16, 5:50, 8:35, 17:32, 20:42, 22:02, 22:50, 29:07, 29:58, 45:51, 51:05, 56:29, 71:49, 76:22, 78:02, 87:21 and 93:49. Reel change markings are also visible at 11:53, 20:53, 30:04, 39:11, 57:38, 65:39, 75:27 and 85:13.

    Subtitles are available in muted yellow or white, with Directors Suite continuing their praiseworthy practice of offering removable white or yellow subtitles on their DVD releases with black and white image transfers.

    The RSDL change occurs at 69:19, right in the middle of a scene so the pause between the layers on the DVD is unfortunately noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
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Shadow Detail
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Overall

Audio

    Oscar Straus' 19th century classical soundtrack supports the opulent setting of the film with many scenes of waltz dancing and opera. Straus was the perfect choice as composer for this film for Ophüls, being born in 1870 he was familiar with the style of music that the film demanded.

    There are two audio tracks. The first is the main French soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 192 kbps. The audio commentary by Dr. Adrian Martin is also in Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 224 kbps. The main soundtrack has background hiss throughout the film so character dialogue can sometimes sound hollow.

    Dialogue is okay as a result of the background hiss. Audio is synchronised throughout.

    The music is both grand and stylistic. Oscar Straus' score is romantic and upbeat in the film's first two acts. In the last act there is very little background music deployed by Ophüls as the mood of the film changes, with the score by Straus downcast and sad by the end.

    The main soundtrack is mono so there is no surround channel usage.

    The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio Commentary by Adrian Martin

    Again, this is another superlative commentary by Dr. Adrian Martin. He covers a lot of the finer details of the plot including the fact that the title hints to the theme of the film, social identity, the prologue hints to the earrings and the fact that the opening shot of the film shows Madame de... defined by her possessions. These themes are repeated throughout by different people and in different locations, with the plot device of the sale of the earrings setting forth actions and reactions amongst the main characters. Dr. Martin also quotes Tag Gallagher's observation of the entrances of people through doorways and the role of servants in the film, who in an Ophüls film are often more status-worthy than their roles demand.

    Dr. Martin also quotes Friedrich Engels in his observation of the typical upper class family unit structure of the late 19th century, with the culture of the mistress separate and distinct from the intimate relationship between husband and wife. This cultural understanding influences the Baron and the Countess' social game of love outside of marriage, with both aware of the boundaries involved in their relationship. Candles are a recurring theme, with different meanings attached to them in different scenes, just like the earrings which come to embody the power struggle between the General and his wife. The 19th century novels Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy are also referenced in their similarity to lead female characters who are adulterous and whose health deteriorates in their eagerness for love outside of marriage. The final scenes, with the Countess' prayer bargain with God for the Baron's life in his duel with the General is ultimately ironic.

    There is a wealth of information available here in this commentary which will greatly embellish the understanding of any viewer of the film.

Interviews- assistant director Alain Jessua (25:30)

    This interview includes photos and press materials. Jessua speaks fondly of his work with Max Ophüls.

Interviews- assistant decorator Marc Frederix (8:14)

    This featurette includes some sketches from the sets.

Interviews- screenwriter Annette Wademant (6:51)

    Filmed in 1989, Wademant discusses her collaboration with Ophüls on the screenplay.

Trailer - Directors Suite trailers

    Four Directors Suite trailers are included: Early Summer by Yasujiro Ozu, My Brilliant Career by Gillian Armstrong, Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati and Latcho Drom by Tony Gatlif.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Madame De... has been released in Region 2 in the United Kingdom on DVD in September, 2006. The image and audio transfer is identical to the Madman Entertainment Region 4 Directors Suite release. The extras included the interview with Alain Jessua and a 17 minute video essay by Tag Gallagher which compares the film in relation to Max Ophüls' career and his style.

    A Region 1 DVD version of the film was released by The Criterion Collection in September, 2008. This version has a picture-boxed image transfer but the the transfer is more sharper and not as dark as the region 2 and region 4 releases. The same three interviews are included on this release as the region 4 Directors Suite release, as is the region 2 video essay by Tag Gallagher. Unique to the Criterion version are a 14 minute introduction by director P.T. Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood), a 4 minute interview with novelist Louise de Vilmorin, an audio commentary by Ophüls scholar, Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar and 78-page book which includes de Vilmorin's original novella, an essay by Molly Haskell and an excerpt from costume designer Georges Annenkov’s 1962 book Max Ophuls.

    Although the Region 4 Directors Suite release has a great commentary by Dr. Martin, I'll still be holding onto my Region 1 copy of the Criterion Collection's release of Madame de... with it's comprehensive extras and packaging and better video transfer.

Summary

    Madame de... may well be the reciprocal version of Ophüls' other great work, Letter from an Unknown Woman, which received most critics votes for a film by Ophüls at the last Sight & Sound poll in 2002. Whereas the main character in Letter from an Unknown Woman, Lisa, has no material worth or social standing to support her in her romantic allusions, Louise in Madame de... is the exact opposite, yet she still can't break away from her social obligations to commit to a passionate relationship with her lover.

    The Region 4 Directors Suite version of Madame de... is another quality release for Region 4 fans of world cinema of this highly recommended work by Max Ophüls.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Friday, October 16, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 019), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

Other Reviews NONE
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