This essay is written by a guest author, Yana Skrynnik.
* * *
Madame de… Who is she? In the beginning of the film we see her as a high society woman, leading a rather empty, frivolous life, defined by the norms and customs of her environment. She’s attached to her material possessions: her furs, her emeralds, her diamond cross… Out of all these things she cares the least about the earrings that her husband, the general, gave her as a wedding gift. The relationship between Louise (Madam de…) and her husband is amiable, light and superficial. They do not inconvenience each other with their secrets, and this not prying into one another’s personal life satisfies them both. Ingmar Bergman would call this type of behavior “The Touch”: when the most that’s happening between the two is the physical touch, and there’s no other contact beyond this. Madame de and her husband do not connect on a spiritual level and do not aspire to – the way the majority of married couple live, the way it is approved and encouraged by society. Madame de… – one of many. A spiritual nonentity.
Yet spirituality always gives us a chance. Louise meets baron Fabrizio Donati and falls in love with him. On the surface it might look like just another flirtation, another intrigue to spice-up the monotonous lightness of their being. But for Louise –it’s love. The love that transforms and makes one overcome material limitations of ego and social norm. Congruent with her personality, Louise’s new knowledge of spiritual existence is spontaneous. She didn’t do anything conscious to open her eyes to a different, non-material way of living. But her merit is her uncompromising faithfulness to her feelings, and resolve to follow her destiny in it. She doesn’t even have a choice of not following her spontaneous enlightenment.
The general – Louise’s husband – is also given a chance of transforming himself and his relationship with his wife into something more real than just following one’s social role. As a gifted man he senses that what’s happening with Louise is profoundly more important than a passing love affair (the kind that would be quite acceptable to society). He even envies her, recognizing the difference between an empty life and a fulfilled one. The general apprehends how vulnerable his wife’s condition is: for on one hand society doesn’t approve of something beyond the set rules of the game, on the other hand, baron Donati is not a Tristan. It is not a story of two soulmates. Baron Donati plays his role of a lover very well as long as it stays on the surface. The moment Donati is really challenged in his feelings for Louise (when the general lets baron know he has stepped out of the limits of his patience and accepted propriety) – Donati withdraws. “I’m not here anymore”, – says baron to Louise after his tete-a-tete with the general. But has he ever been there? It’s ironic that Donati prefers to let himself be killed than to become a victim of a scandal and social censure. He’d rather perish in this nonsensical fate than really love Louise. And unfortunately so would the general, who doesn’t choose to become a real friend to Louise, supporting her in her sufferings, being patient and loving. Instead he becomes a social monster and kills his chance for spirituality – and that’s the only thing we can really kill in this life.
Louise dies as soon as her lover’s heart stops beating, but this isn’t “Liebestod”. God takes her because she has no reason to stay in this material world anymore. Spiritually, she is accomplished. Those material things that she adored in the beginning of the movie do not have any value for her now. The earrings she didn’t cherish are precious to her now, but only as a symbol of her love. She parts with their material form as easy as she herself leaves the world. “Madame de…” in the end of the film signifies freedom from social labeling, like in “I’m nobody!” by Emily Dickinson. Not being defined by social means, being beyond them – being spiritual.
Sunday, August 14 2011, 5:10 PM, New York