In Coeur Fidèle’s accompanying 44-page booklet, Jean Epstein, at a 1924 address, argues his film as “romantic” rather than”realist”, the label with which Italian poet Ricciotto Canudo assigned it before his death. The truth is that Epstein’s largely unknown masterpiece provides a fascinating agreement of the two styles, oscillating with seamless precision between reverie and sincerity. Marie (Gina Manès) is in love with Jean (Léon Mathot), a kind-hearted man who works on the Marseille docklands, but Marie’s adoptive parents want to marry her off to the obnoxious and unemployed drunk Petit Paul (Edmond Van Daële), and the scene is set for a sensational melodrama to unfold. Continue reading
Based on the story by Honoré de Balzac. Caught in a storm, two young doctors book into an inn for the night and find themselves sharing a room with a Dutch diamond merchant. During the night Prosper steals from the merchant, but when he awakes in the morning he finds the merchant dead and his friend gone. When the stolen property is found on him he is arrested for the crime and executed. 25 years later the innkeeper’s daughter relates the tale to a traveler, who in turn later relates it at a dinner party. At that party is Frederic Taillefer, the missing friend and murderer. Continue reading
(References: Richard Abel, French Cinema: The First Wave, 1915-1929 (Princeton UP, 1984), pp. 350-366.)
“Abel comments that Epstein’s film was ‘conceived in the wake of Abel Gance’s La Roue (1923)’ with its rapid cutting and use of symbolism. Epstein’s story of a tragic love triangle involving marginal workers and down-and-outs in the rundown milieu of the old Marseille waterfront, together with Fievre, established the subgenre of ‘the poetic realist film’ (see En rade, Pepe le moko, Quai des brumes). Epstein intended to take a popular form (melodrama) as the pretext for experimentation. Close-ups and rapid cutting are deployed in an original manner that according to Abel ‘synthesised much of then current film practice’. The film falls into two halves divided by the carnival sequence in which Epstein’s editing is at its most experimental assuming the form of ‘a vertiginous dance’. ” Continue reading
L’or des mers (1932) is based on Breton myths and legends. It tells the story of Soizic and her father, an old and alcoholic sailor who draws attention to himself when he discovers and hides a treasure from a ship wreak that has been washed up by the sea. In L’or des mers but also in the third film Chanson d’Armor, there are no good and bad characters, just human beings faced with their destiny and the forces of the nature. One of the brilliant things in both films is the way that sky and water become central figures. Epstein once said that canals and the coastline were the best characters that he ever worked with! Continue reading
Polish-born Jean Epstein’s Finis Terrae is momentous.
While every film exists on a sliding scale of expression whose opposite poles are documentary and fiction, this film in particular does more than merely combine the two modes; it anticipates generic (as distinct from stylistic) attempts – poetic docudrama; Italian Neorealism – to fuse them. How successful Epstein’s film is remains in dispute; its importance is incontestable.
The initial action is set on Bannec, a Breton islet. It is summer. Two boys, in their teens or, perhaps, early twenties, are on the islet to work. These dear friends are Jean-Marie and Ambroise (played by Jean-Marie Laot and Ambroise Rouzic). They quarrel; Ambroise withdraws from Jean-Marie and another boy in their group as a cut finger causes infection and saps his health. Jean-Marie attempts to row himself to Ouessant, on the mainland, but hasn’t the strength. Braving the elements, which include dense fog, Jean-Marie takes over, attempting to bring Ambroise to a medical doctor; meanwhile, the doctor is heading to Bannec to attend to the sick boy. Will the two vessels miss one another in the fog and tragedy result?