The Earrings of Madame de...

It was not without misgivings that the German-born, Jewish director Max Ophüls (1902-57) began work on the penultimate film of his career, The Earrings of Madame de... Adapted from a novel by Louise de Vilmorin (published in 1951, two years before the film's release), the Belle Époque story follows the extramarital goings on of an upper-class Parisian couple. Ophüls wondered if his project -- with its focus on the thwarted love affair between a pampered countess and an Italian diplomat -- was anemic in its conceit compared to other literary works he might have transcribed for the screen. In any event, it was the structure of de Vilmorin's novel that impressed him rather than its contents. In the film, Madame de... (played by Danielle Darrieux) sells a pair of diamond earrings, a gift from her husband (Charles Boyer), to cover a 20,000-franc debt she incurred on the sly. Through a series of coincidences, the earrings find their way back to the couple and in the process become laden with an outsized symbolic power. Ophüls's ability to use a modicum of dialogue to express expansive feelings and his unfailing sense of mise-en-scène -- identified by a camera style that seems almost aquatic in its fluidity -- lift what might otherwise be a foamy indulgence to the rich substance of art. Without derision, one might say that The Earrings of Madame de... represents the apotheosis of the chick flick.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."