Jean Epstein

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HerrSchreck
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Jean Epstein

#1 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Nov 26, 2007 9:57 pm

Jean Epstein (1897-1953)

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Being about the same age as the sound film myself, I am one of the generation that was astonished when the characters in Modern Times didn't talk. Of course, since that time, I have seen Potemkin, Caligari, La Charrette Fantome, The Kid, Greed, Metropolis, Chapeau de Paille d'Italie, etc., but I have never been as fascinated by silent images as I was by Jean Epstein's, whose shadows have outlived him. Again, I had never before realised how much the screen lost when it was allowed to talk. Living in a white frame, Epstein's phantoms take on an independent existence, a true gift of mystery and enchantment. (Sight and Sound, 1953)


Filmography

Les Feux de la mer (1948)

Le Tempestaire (1947)

Artères de France (1939)

Bâtisseurs, Les (1938)

Eau vive (1938)

La Relève (1938)

La Femme du bout du monde (1937)

Vive la vie (1937)

La Bourgogne (1936)

La Bretagne (1936)

Coeur de gueux (1936/I)

Cuor di vagabondo (1936)

Chanson d'Armor (1934)

La Châtelaine du Liban (1934)

La Vie d'un grand journal (1934)

L'Homme à l'Hispano (1933)

L'Or des mers (1932)

Mor vran (1931)

Notre-Dame de Paris (1931)

Le Pas de la mule (1930)

Finis terrae (1929)

Sa tête (1929)

La Chute de la maison Usher (1928)

La Glace à trois faces (1927)

Six et demi onze (1927)

Mauprat (1926)

Au pays de George Sand (1926)

Les Aventures de Robert Macaire (1925)

Le Double amour (1925)

Le Lion des Mogols (1924)

L'Affiche (1924)

La Goutte de sang (1924) (co-director)

L'Auberge rouge (1923)

La Belle Nivernaise (1923)

Coeur fidèle (1923)

La Montagne infidèle (1923)

Pasteur (1922) (co-director)

Les Vendanges (1922)


Forum resources

French Impressionism

Avant Garde & Experimental Films on DVD

Disc reccommendations: French DVDs with French Subs


Films On Dvd

La Chute de la Maison Usher, R1, Image

Lac Glace a trois faces, La Tempestaire, R1, Kino

Coeur Fidele, R2, Fox Pathe Europa


Web Resources

General monograph and english-language critical survey (note linked contents on upper right.)

Ubuweb, with links to watch GLACE and LA TEMPESTIARE

Senses of Cinema monograph on USHER

French-only collection of some of Epsteins theoretical works on cinema, as mentioned below by Knappen.

imdb's Epstein page

Excellent programme notes from Cineteca di bologna from a recent retrospective of Epstein's Brittany documentary/cine-poems.


Books

Jean Epstein, cinéaste des îles (Broché) FRENCH ONLY

Interested in buying a vintage 1921 copy of Epsteins Bonjour Cinema (for $600)? Look no further!

(more to come...)
Last edited by HerrSchreck on Sat Dec 01, 2007 9:09 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Knappen
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#2 Post by Knappen » Mon Nov 26, 2007 10:33 pm

Thank you for this new topic, my friend.

A link to download Epstein's theoretical works on cinema. Only in french, I am afraid.

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HerrSchreck
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#3 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Dec 01, 2007 9:09 am

Updated with new info, and almost complete.

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Knappen
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#4 Post by Knappen » Mon Dec 03, 2007 12:09 am

For those planning to take a trip to Paris (and for those who are living there - like myself in a year from now) it may be interesting to note that Musée d'Orsay is showing Le Lion des Mogols (1924) by Epstein on the 9th of february in their series Le cinéma français des années 20 : corps et décors along with Usher and La Glace à trois faces. We are living in strange times when screenings of the two latter have become almost trivial for dvd stocking cinephiles.

Lion is certainly a rarity. Imdb doesn't give any information for the length of the film, but the Cinémathèque française gives 110 minutes (2000 meters). All I have seen of the film is an extremely butchered version where the entire plot is reduced down to 20 minutes. The vhs source (with english intertitles) is as obscure as it gets, and it is hard to imagine why anyone with an interest in Epstein's work would spend money on releasing this some 25 years ago (?) just to screw the whole film up. The rip I have is really very rough.
I am left with the impression of a big budget melodrama where Epstein has done little of the adventurous visuals that he was already doing on Coeur fidèle the before, but then it is hard to figure this out through the muddy image of my boot. But after all, this seems to be his own project where he has also written the script and edited the film. And it has Ivan Mozzhukhin!
Go to the Musée d'Orsay in two months and prove me wrong.

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HerrSchreck
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#5 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Dec 05, 2007 8:10 pm

Having worked my way through the new issue of Coeur fidèle via the glorious restoration of the film as presented on the fantastic new French Pathe dvd (no Engl. subs but a simple enough story with titles that were easy enough to crack to at glean their essence on the first pass).

I am utterly floored. The man was a magician, a complete and total Cinematic Wizard. Considering the fact that this masterpiece of nuance and utter sophistication was made in the ballpark of just about a year after the man began working in the cinema (his third or fourth film), Epstein has to be considered one of the most impressive talents (and intellects) in the history of the medium. Coeur fidèle is every bit the masterpiece of Usher, Gla. a Trois, the astonishing Finis Terrae, La Tempestaire, etc. SOme who are not as cinematically 'adventurous' (at least in terms of the fractured narrative structure and ambiguity employed so masterfully in the above mentioned titles) may even find Coeur as the masterpiece of his career as it sees him employing his astonishing otherworldly technique of Haunting Visuals, incredible Rendering of Mood, superintelligent yet emotionally innovative mise en scene, plus in-camera effects of superimposition/double exposure, etc, but in the service of a simple, capturing, earnestly rendered love story. And one that is told with the utmost sincerity & beautifully adult sophistication.

I couldn't help but think of Sunrise as I watched this film, observing the differences of the two masters-- Murnau (another man who ramped up to absolute mastery of the medium in a very short time, though not quite as fast as Epstein I must say!) and Epstein of course-- as they set out to 1) please the masses with a heartfelt tale of romance and heartbreak, yet 2) not compromise their artistic integrity.

The differences are striking. While Murnau's film is an absolute complete and total masterpiece of the highest order-- one of the greatest films ever made hands down of course-- there is a sense of adult honesty, a directness, and an emotional specificity to the story of Coeur fidèle that lends a deep intimacy to the film... which gives the sense of the filmmaker as more passionate, having waded deep into the tribulations of loving and losing and loving again, that is absent from Sunrise, which is more a story of Every Husband and Wife.

Murnau, my longtime favorite director, nevertheless seems locked into telling the same tale of Love Corrupted By Outside Forces (which interestingly is the kind of tale Coeur fidèle is also) as a sort of indictment of life in the world, of it's cruel ability to trip up and destroy pure and good love no matter how hard we try. Whereas it can feel almost as though Murnau has made his film from a position Outside The World-- artist as loner etc-- Epstein has made his film from very much Inside The World.. perhaps devasted by the losses dealt by the hands of fate a la Murnau (who lost his great love in WW1, a fellow soldier/companion)... yet still very much inside the process of life itself, making a film not about the gears of destruction ever turning to conspire against two lovers, but about the moments in between, the living, livid moments of passion, of great feeling, living the moments that ultimately become great memories (Epstein knew how to render these moments, to make them look like the ex post facto memories they would become in the minds eye, like no other)... his film is structured around these moments of Feeling.. rendering these moments of longing when the two are separated, and the moments of great happiness and relief when the two are together-- and the feeling or message of the movie gleaned seems to be (VERY French despite Ep's POlish heritage) "Persevere versus the cruel hands of fate, the conspiring of the old world to obliterate the lives and the love of two good and well-meaning people drowning in a sea of human shit and brainlessness and heartlessness: these heightened moments when two are communing together are still worthwhile, and are the overriding Issues To Be Seen; they are the defining moments of significance in small human lives because to persevere is all one can do to commend onesself anyhow," which is very much what the film is about, perseverance despite the gears that Murnau almost seems to have, in utter personal isolation, given up versus in his own life. A lonely and isolated man, living in the world of his dreams and longing-- and his work of course. All of which came together so sublimely, of course.

Another issue to be seen in the Epstein is the utter tour de force nature of it's construction. Beyond a few moments in Griffith's Way Down East, as well as Feyder's Faces of Children (maybe the murder of Alan in Caligari, also), I can tell you that in terms of rapid montage, there are sequences in Coeur fidèle that exceed-- in terms of kineticism, in terms of simple number of edits per second, the rapidity of mosaic-- anything that Eisenstein ever did (save perhaps the machine-gunning sequence in October). I don't know if Eisenstein ever saw this film (and there's a good chance he did since his very next film La Belle Nivernaise seems to have made it to the USSR that same year '23, if the print on the copy that was supplied to me has intertitles that are vintage to the era.. which seems to be the case), but if he did the whole Esther Shub/Griffith theory of his acquisition of the montage idea must be completely re-evaluated. It's all there here in this masterpiece, far beyond those quick stolen moments like the flash when the child faints at his mother's funeral in FACES OF CHILDREN, the chase to the ice floes in WAY DOWN EAST, etc. This film exhibits fully formed, extreme montage which is sustained and repeated throughout a number of breathtaking sequences throughout the narrative from start to end.

As a catalogue of sophisticated film grammar that would within four years become tha hallmarks of The Silent Masterpiece, Coeur fidèle is a virtual lexicon. Given the fact that at the time Ep made it many of these hallmarks were neither hallmarks nor in operation by their most celebrated practitioners (in Germany and the Soviet Union, though of course Gance and L'Herbier deserve mention in this dept), the importance of Epstein, and the astonishing beauty of his first all-cylinders-turning masterpiece, Coeur fidèle, just can't be overstated!

Strain to the point of hernia to see this film somehow, even if you cant read French. Run babelfish alongside, do whatever.

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zedz
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#6 Post by zedz » Wed Dec 05, 2007 9:06 pm

Damn, I really need to place a new French DVD order. I've longed to see this film for well over a decade.

You haven't managed to track down Mor'Vran in your recent squirrellings, have you Schreck? That was my Intro to Ep, and it seems to be very much in the tradition of Coeur fidele / Finis terrae, but translated into an experimental documentary and condensed to under 30 minutes. It has a lot of the rhythmic and visual virtues you identify, with the addition of sound and the fascinating conceit of almost, but not quite, removing the fictional element entirely: there's a vestigial melodrama buried within the film that only completely surfaces for air in a few brief shots.

If anybody's gutsy enough to pick up Coeur fidele for an English-subbed release (hello Kino?), Mor'Vran would be a glorious extra.

Your point about the possible Epstein influence on the Russian avant-garde is interesting. It bears remembering that in the 1920s the radical montage of Eisenstein et al. didn't hit France as a bolt from the blue, but slotted very comfortably into the already established and well-defined cinematic tradition of Impressionism.

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HerrSchreck
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#7 Post by HerrSchreck » Thu Dec 06, 2007 2:02 pm

Coeur really takes the breath away, z-- you'll love it. It's like seeing someone like Frank Zappa or Stockhausen suddenly turn around and write The Ninth/ODE TO JOY, seeing your avant hero unexpectedly blending all the technical innovation and tour de force execution you're used to with the utmost emotional sincerity and genuine deep feeling.

But it's not even that much of a surprise, really; I mean the man was dealing continuously with matters of the heart-- Glace, Nivernais, Usher, Coeur, these are films made by a man deeply engaged in matters of the heart. Even the late La Tempestaire is blatantly a love story... the tale of a wife deathly afraid of losing her loved one to outsde forces, and desperately seeking help. It's actually completely logical to my eye (seeing Ep deal with such romantic material as Coeur), since he was not strictly the hyperintellectual animal, that say, Eisenstein was, who rarely delved into matters of the heart with much gusto or passion or sincerity. Ep's films like so many of the Impressionists around him are built around the sentiment of deep longing, love's melancholy etc. I think I once loosely categorized Impressionism as "the blues" of the silent era (I think you ribbed me a bit in pm z because it does sound a little funny/corny but I think we both agreed on the essence of what I meant), and certainly Ep is no exception there. I recall getting through the hard loss of a pet a few years ago through the obsessive watching of USHER.. the depth of feeling resident in that film, Debucourts spaced out grieving to the point of insanity, totally helped get me through to the other side. Epstein's changing the Lost Loved One in that film from sister to wife is certainly significant and says something about the man's nature, and the kinds of emotional terrain he was interested in exploring, at least in the 20's while at the height of his powers, and before the fucking fascist issue obliterated his ability to make films for a time. Thank god for his postwar period which saw an almost complete return to form.. though of course on a smaller scale. First of all thank god he survived the Holocaust... god knows that if the Nazi's had their druthers Epstein and his sister would have been just another two bodies tossed into the furnace of WW2. I don't have the name at my fingertips but it was due to the intervention of someone that he was not deported during the Occupation...

No I have NOT seen Mor'Vran. If you know anyone with copies laying around, I'm a buzz away...

As to the montage USSR-France issue, you're right of course. After watching early Ep, the first films of Kirsanoff, 20's L'Herbier, Feyder, etc, none of the regulars at the Parisian cinemas like Ursuline would have seen anything particularly "new" about Eisenstein's Potemkin technique of cutting per se, aside from the fact that he made the montage technique the very crux of his cinematic biscuit, and subordinated his entire mise en scene to this primary obsession. Speaks volumes that Eisenstein came to France to associate himself with the French Avant movement (I've even heard Eisie labeled an Impressionist), making what essentially was one of the first Impressionist Vamps by an outsider, basically making USHER/BRUMES DE AUTOMNES all over again with Romance Sentimentale. Autumn, fog, lost love, longing, nostalgia, shadows, dead leaves, cold weather, more shadows, more dead leaves... yadda yadda. On top of it all, beyond it's historical interest-- a failed film, a curiosity. The sensibility was too emotionally ripe-- yet delicately nuanced-- for a guy like Eisenstein who painted in huge Griffith-like strokes of manipulation meant to beat you over the head with a tire iron. Eisie was also rehearsed to the point of instinct in the matter of Keeping Real Feelings (of heart, of belief, of political as well as romantic/sexual matters) Hidden, owing to the facts of life in his home regime.. which didn't dispose him well to the romantic sentimental(e) poetics of genuine Impressionsm.

But that didn't keep him from wanting to emulate his heroes in France. If we'll go with the "Blues" analogy, the same way the Delta & Chi bluesmen were copped by the Brits & white Americans, so did the Soviets & US avant movement pick up on the thread w Eisie, cats like Herman Weinberg, etc. But absolutely, the editing in POtemkin, which hit with such a thud around the world, would have landed with a lesser impact in Paris... (a sort of "pfffng" or maybe a "thk"... perhaps a "shhh-thhp"? but definitely not a booming Thud haw haw haw) in Paris, where Feyder, Epstein, the sublime Kirsanoff (the opening murder of Menilmontant, anyone?.. made in late 25!!) et al had been turning out gem after gem employing this very conceit, fully formed to it's utmost, for a good few years already.

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Knappen
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#8 Post by Knappen » Tue Jan 22, 2008 10:20 am

I finally managed to get my hands on this through the university library. I'll report when the reading produces some interesting information.

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HerrSchreck
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#9 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Jan 22, 2008 8:15 pm

God man.. who I wouldn't murder for an English translation of his BonJour Cinema. There is just nothing on the guy in English.

Hell, we don't even have a Murnau bio in English. They really should resurrect Eisner's bio.

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Knappen
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From Jean Epstein - Cinéaste des îles by Vincent Guigueno

#10 Post by Knappen » Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:40 am

Image

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Zazou dans le Metro
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#11 Post by Zazou dans le Metro » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:21 pm

This might get your juices flowing Knap old chap

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Knappen
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#12 Post by Knappen » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:35 pm

Thanks for the word.

I placed a rather huge order on french Amazon, but that book and some other stuff got temporarily cancelled.

With a little patience they'll probably make it (Kn)happen.

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zedz
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#14 Post by zedz » Tue Sep 30, 2008 4:35 pm

Sorry I can't help with the Chatelaine, but bumping this thread reminded me that I have now seen Coeur fidele and have to echo Schreck's enthusiasm. An amazing technical accomplishment but also an amazing film (i.e. it's not just about the technique). The French disc is unsubbed, but the story is straightforward and Epstein tells 90% of everything in inventive visual terms, so don't worry if you can't read French.

Everything I see by Epstein exposes my previous understanding of his genius as hopelessly limited: not only is each new film hugely impressive, but it's hugely impressive in a different way, illuminating the breadth of his skills as well as their depths. So far, those encounters have been completely haphazard - it would be great if some enterprising label could consolidate and increase the available material in a systematic way.

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Knappen
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Re: Jean Epstein

#15 Post by Knappen » Mon Nov 24, 2008 2:01 pm

The Cinémathêque francaise is showing L'Affiche (1924) on december 10th. Bring along a hi-def video camera.

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Knappen
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Re: Jean Epstein

#16 Post by Knappen » Thu Dec 04, 2008 10:56 am

Late 70s French comic book style Epstein!

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HerrSchreck
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Re: Jean Epstein

#17 Post by HerrSchreck » Thu Dec 04, 2008 3:50 pm

What is gods name was that??

Epstein always reminds me a little bit of John Turturro-- just way more Mad Scientisty.

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Knappen
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Re: Jean Epstein

#18 Post by Knappen » Thu Dec 04, 2008 5:11 pm

It's from a famous French series on well known directors and movements shown in 1978-79.

Mad Scientisty, you say? Take a look at this!

Image

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HerrSchreck
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Re: Jean Epstein

#19 Post by HerrSchreck » Thu Dec 04, 2008 5:46 pm

BADASS!!

Say, did you get over and see L'Affiche (1924)?

And did that showing of Grem's Maldone go down yet??

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Knappen
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Re: Jean Epstein

#20 Post by Knappen » Thu Dec 04, 2008 7:25 pm

No no no.

Affiche is next wednesday and Maldone in february, I think.

And now: Jewish Mad Scientist disguised as 1920s playboy:

Image

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HerrSchreck
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Re: Jean Epstein

#21 Post by HerrSchreck » Thu Dec 04, 2008 8:04 pm

Are those taken from moving footage or are they stills?

He looks like a panzergrenadier from Jupiter with those goggles on..

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Knappen
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Re: Jean Epstein

#22 Post by Knappen » Fri Dec 05, 2008 8:38 am

It's a still taken from the documentary Jean Epstein ou le cinéma pour lui-même.

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HerrSchreck
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Re: Jean Epstein

#23 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Dec 05, 2008 1:11 pm

Holy post-office, batman.

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Knappen
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Re: Jean Epstein

#24 Post by Knappen » Fri Dec 05, 2008 4:15 pm

Hint hint

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Knappen
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Re: Jean Epstein

#25 Post by Knappen » Wed Dec 10, 2008 7:32 pm

L'Affiche (1924)

I just came back from the screening of this in the – no kidding – Salle Jean Epstein at the Cinemathèque française.

There was no musical accompaniment, something I often find a bit annoying as spectators tend to sound bored because you can hear every sigh they make and others fall asleep because they get less sucked into the action than is the case with a good score to add that little something that make silent films magical. My Colombian friend actually slept his way through most of the film.

To me, L’Affiche is a sweet little film that contains enough of Epstein’s formal experimentations to place it among his personal films (as opposed to Le Lion des Mogol and Les Aventures de Robert Macaire, which I have only seen in very truncated versions for the American market). These montages come in rather small doses though, and aren’t dominating enough to justify any ”avant garde” branding of the film. The hauntingly beautiful images simply aren’t as plenty as in Coeur fidèle. As for the plot, written by Marie Epstein, Jean’s talented sister, it is sentimental enough to make the average spectator shed a tear but is at the same time centered around the quite original idea which is the role of the ”affiche” (poster).

Spoilers ahead:

The film begins with some montage involving the main character and her fellow “midinettes” counting down the clock to noon when they have their break.
The dream of every midinette is of course to meet a rich man who will marry her and give her a security. Our girl seems to be on her way to this in a scene at a “guinguette”. Here we get a touch of Epstein’s impressionistic style and the dancing scenes not too different from those in Grémillon’s Maldone. Prince Charming is presented coming to the place in some viruose shots that announce the fascination with expensive automobiles at high speed in La Glace à trois faces and L’Homme à l’Hispano. The guy and the gal meet and the last image we see is that of a broken champagne glass and drink spilled over a restaurant table…

“Three years later”, the intertitle says. “The only things that she has to remember his by is:” (Image of a tab with the name “Richard” and a date written on it) “and” (image of a baby laying in the cradle). Now the film could easily have taken a dreary turn towards sentimental melodrama, but luckily our heroine is a very capable woman: she goes on to win the “most beautiful baby” of France award and gains 15000 francs and a deal where she sells the rights to use images of her child in advertising campaigns. In a strange vision she has as the idea of entering the competition comes to her mind, we see piles of gold coins behind a liquid screen with clouds of ink spilled into the opaque mass. Little by little her little boy is revealed sitting at the bottom of the piles.

The head of the assurance company who arranges the baby beauty competition is very happy to be able to make huge posters of the beautiful child to post all over the city. “Look, son. The winner has the same name as you!” he says to a young man standing beside him…

Three months later the cradle is empty: Little Richard is dead. We see the suffering mother kneeling at the cemetery. Several subjective shots show how it is difficult to see the names of the tombstones through her tearful vision. Epstein’s impressionistic art again comes to the surface. A more expressionistic side comes to life when the poor mother is haunted by the posters with an image of her dead boy that seem to cover every wall of the city. They close in on her as they will on another person later in the film. The poster reads “Make your children’s future safe: Place an insurance for them”.

The head of the insurance company is making too much money from the posters to listen to the poor mother’s heartbreaking cries, and tells her that he has the right on his side. She only sees one solution: Tear down all the posters that she can.

When the mysterious saboteur is finally caught during one of her monthly raids, the son of the head of the insurance company meets at the police station next day to make a formal complaint. But instead of an agent from a rival company he meets a familiar face …

I’ll stop with the spoilers here. As you have guessed I liked the film quite a lot. There are elements of conventional melodrama here: Dying children, a heroine who faints in the arms of her long lost lover (well, Fyodor Dostoyevsky also had fainting heroines in his novels: plenty), but almost nothing of the schmaltz that characterizes bad silent cinema.

Can’t wait to see it again.

Merci Jean.

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