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Sparklin’ Earrings: “Madame De . . .”

The Earrings of Madame de...

The Earrings of Madame de… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my view, the Max Ophuls film The Earrings of Madame De . . . (1953, a.k.a. Madame D . . .) is not art, but rather a lovely, outstandingly directed and edited work of craft.  Adulterous love arises in French aristocratic culture, as it does in Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, but here there are no lower class folks playing the game as well.  Plus Ophuls keeps a certain distance from his characters, going in for tragedy instead of sardonic farce (as in Renoir).

Charles Boyer, as a general, knows how to enact a man who can both express love and keep his dignity.  Danielle Darrieux keeps hers too, and is right for romantic tragedy.  Also just fine as an aristocrat is Lia de Lea, the general’s mistress.  Vittorio de Sica, as Madame de’s lover, might have been inspired enough by this film to direct his own male-female stuff (e.g. Marriage Italian Style).

(In French with English subtitles)

North Dallas Dreck: “North Dallas Forty” (1979)

Cover of "North Dallas Forty"

Cover of North Dallas Forty

Was football controversial in 1979?  No.  It was considered pretty innocent stuff, albeit, as North Dallas Forty demonstrates, it brought plenty of pain to athletic bodies no longer young.

This is convincingly depicted (by Nick Nolte and director Ted Kotcheff), but NDF presents a problem.  It is the most cynical sports movie I’ve ever seen, as well as annoyingly coarse.  For a long time I thought it was insulting to women, but not really.  It’s harder on men than on women, and is, in point of fact, insulting to Christians:  Art the quarterback (Marshall Colt) in particular.  Partly comedic, it is well directed but unwell in spirit.  Its mild nudity is not gratuitous but it seems to be, because the movie itself is gratuitous.

The Undervalued: “The King of Masks”

ABEB34BB-C348-4105-90D8-5D51F0D31283In the West, the lives of most little girls are hardly devoid of privileges and delights.  In China of the 1930s, however, little girls were rigidly undervalued and sold by their impoverished parents (or keepers) to ensure all-around survival.

“Doggie” (Zhou Ron-Ying), the child in the Chinese picture The King of Masks (1996), has keepers, not parents.  An elderly street performer, Wang (Zhu Xu), is fooled into thinking she is a young boy and buys her, only to be shocked and dismayed when it transpires she is a girl.  It is only a boy who can inherit Wang’s silk mask entertainment trade after he dies.  Not without pity, the old man allows “Doggie” to work for him, but a string of awful misfortunes makes it, for a while, impossible for him to support her.

Many a theme receives attention in Wu Tianming‘s rich film:  childhood destitution, the ubiquity of injustice, the seeming need (when it is a need) for accepting fate, pariahism.  For all its dramatics, King is no masterpiece of drama—it needs a sturdier plot—but it is interesting and beautifully chaste.  It ends on sentimental note but it is also an affecting film.

(In Mandarin with English subtitles)

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