41. “The Earrings of Madame de…”, Max Ophuls (1953)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

The earrings of Madame de

The Earrings of Madame de… aka Madame de…

dir. Max Ophuls scr. Marcel Achard, Max Ophuls, Annette Wademant based on the novel Madame de… by Louise de Vilmorin cin. Christian Matras with Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, and Vittorio de Sica

In 100 words: Andrew Sarris referred to this as the most perfect film ever made and it is hard to think of anything particularly wrong with this film: Ophuls’ camera movements elegantly but dexterously weaves through any obstacle, in surprising ways. His camera’s refusal to leave the characters’ side speaks not only to Ophuls’ mastery of the form, but also of how involving the story is: earrings become the axis on which the plot revolves. Beyond being a fabulous tale of adultery, it is a stunning story about how all the riches, titles, and reputation in the world would mean nothing without love.

Other Movies for Context: The great Max Ophuls had some of the most admirable camerawork in the history of film. I personally rank him alongside Mizoguchi in terms of the long take. His other works, however, haven’t exactly spoken to me the way this has: The Letters from an Unknown Woman (1948) felt like a creepy display of love and I was never truly involved in its story, while Lola Montes (1955) doesn’t feel as deep or as interesting as this one, despite the luscious colors of that film.

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51. “Bicycle Thieves”, Vittorio de Sica (1948)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen List

Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves aka Ladri di biciclette

dir. Vittorio de Sica scr. Vittorio de Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Gerardo Guerrieri, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci cin. Carlo Montuori with Enzo Stiaola and Lamberto Maggiorani

In 100 words: This landmark of Italian neorealism has built a staggering portrait of post-war Rome, with remarkable empathy for its main characters’ hopefulness, triumphs, and desperation, without turning maudlin. The narrative builds to a powerful choice and an ending full of ambiguity, and perhaps generosity towards its characters and the uncertainty about their future. De Sica’s camerawork and framing captures the desperation of a city trying to rebuild, but alive with activity.  It’s a more deeply psychological take on poverty than Rosselini’s: we understand how vital that bicycle is, but also understand too well reasons behind the choices people make to survive.

Other Movies for Context: Vittorio de Sica is an important figure in Italian cinema and this film basically cemented his status is a premiere director. His Umberto D. (1952) similarly focuses on the harshness of life in post-war Italy, even if it’s a bit more depressing than this one. I also like Two Women (1960), the movie that won Sophia Loren her Oscar for Best Actress.