This single-disc set is being released along with two other Ophuls films, La ronde and Le plaisr. Criterion has given all three digipak packaging. La ronde and Le plaisir come in thin digipaks with thin sleeves while Madame de… has slightly different packaging that resembles Patriotism and Sansho the Bailiff, with the digipak and thick booklet in a thicker sleeve.
Of the three releases The Earrings of Madame de… is the best in terms of supplements.
Up first is an introduction by Paul Thomas Anderson that looks to have been made exclusively for this release. It’s actually presented more as a fragmented commentary and I actually wonder if maybe that was the original intention of it. Running 14-minutes Anderson talks over clips from the film and mentions how he first came across Ophuls (which is sort of confusing as it comes off as a half completed thought, but he somehow came across his films while going through Samuel Fuller’s films) and then comments on the scenes that are being shown getting into Ophuls’ camera techniques, editing/cutting, and how he tells stories. It’s a shame this isn’t a full commentary as Anderson does offer quite a bit. As it is, though, it’s a great, brief insight into the film.
An actual commentary is supplied, though, with Susan White (who provided the commentary on the Criterion and Second Sight editions of La ronde) and Gaylyn Studlar. I’m unsure if this was recorded for Criterion specifically, but it doesn’t look to appear on the Second Sight DVD. It is a nice little commentary with the two getting lost in their conversation about Ophuls and the film. I felt one drawback to White’s La ronde commentary was the fact she was obviously reading from prepared notes. This track feels more spontaneous making it much more energetic. It’s a scholarly track with the two offering an in-depth analysis of the film and a history of Ophuls and his career. Like just about every other feature found on all of Criterion’s Ophuls DVDs there is a lot of discussion about his use of the camera (dolly, tracking, etc.) and cutting, but it’s still all quite interesting. It’s an excellent track that goes by fast and offers a lot of information making it well worth listening to.
Under “Supplements” Criterion presents a few features. Grouped under “Ophuls’s Collaborators” there are three interviews. The first is with assistant director Alain Jessua, made in 2005. This is the longest of the three, running about 25-minutes with Jessua focusing on his work for Madame de…. He talks about Ophuls’ personality, which was very charming and kind, though he apparently did get a little high strung during the actual filming (Jessua makes a Jekyll/Hyde reference.) He also touches on Ophuls' shooting style, the design of the film, the music, and even talks a little bit about the film’s producer. The most interesting aspects of the interview involves a failed project that followed Madame de… and the plaque shown at the end of the film, which Jessua, who actually had the plaque engraved, still has and shows to us (and of course the plaque isn’t finished, missing the name of Madame de…) Great interview that adds on a lot to everything else presented through all of the Ophuls releases.
The second interview is from 1989 and features co-writer Annette Wademant. It is the shortest running a little over 7-minutes. She makes some comparisons to the book and talks a bit about working with Ophuls, who, she feels, did everything his own way and wasn’t one that easily welcomed outside suggestions (she explains how she was almost sent back to Paris because she wouldn’t stop pushing an idea on him.) She felt she couldn’t express herself but seems to have enjoyed working with Ophuls and co-writer Marcel Achard, who she obviously has a great amount of respect for.
The third interview is also from 1989. This interview, running over 8-minutes, presents assistant decorator Marc Frédérix. He talks about both Max Ophuls and designer Jean d’Eaubonne and their working relationship. He states that d’Eaubonne unfortunately threw away most of his work after the completion of a film but then shows that some materials had been saved. He shows some drawings for this film and other Ophuls films, including Le plaisir and The Marriage of Figaro. He talks a bit about how the sets would have to be changed to accommodate Ophuls camera methods and, by the sounds of it, they had to be somewhat dynamic, easy to change. It’s an interesting bit that gets deep into some of the more technical aspects of Ophuls method of filmmaking.
”Visual Essay by Tag Gallagher” is an interesting supplement. Running 17-minutes it’s an analysis of Ophuls’ techniques to “create moments of passion”. In it, Gallagher presents shots/frames from Madame de... (and some other films by Max Ophuls) and gives a very in-depth analysis on how he worked to convey feeling from the shots. He also breaks down one sequence, the sequence where the Baron and Madame de… first meet. During this bit he shows the sequence as a whole (made up of four shots) and then breaks then down and offers an incredibly in-depth interpretation of each shot, basically going through frame by frame. At times it’s a little heavy-handed but it really captures that film school feel that Criterion really tries to go for. It makes for a fascinating, educational piece.
And probably the most interesting supplement on here is an excerpt from a 1965 episode of the French television program Démons et merveilles de cinema presenting an interview with novelist Louise de Vilmorin, the author of the novel on which the film is based. It begins with her talking a bit about her work, but then she gets into the film adaptation of Madame de… and pretty much goes on a tangent stating it’s “all wrong!” It’s actually somewhat amusing as everything about the movie, even the subtle differences, really get on her nerves. She even goes as far to call the film “boring.” She states that Ophuls originally showed her an idea for an adaptation that she liked, but obviously something changed. It’s an interesting supplement, definitely worth watching.
And finally, closing the set is a 76-page booklet, putting the slim booklets that come with La ronde and Le plaisir to shame. Inside is an essay by Molly Haskell that offers an analysis of the film and looks at Ophuls use of women in his films. You’ll also find “Dressing Madame de…” which is an excerpt from the book Max Ophuls by costume designer Georges Annenkov, who reminisces on the film and the costumes. And finally is the source novel, a 1998 translation of Madame de… by Louise de Vilmorin, nicely completing the set.
Of the three Ophuls releases from Criterion I felt this one was the most well rounded, offering a great amount of material. The supplements alone make the release worth picking up. 9/10