Visages d’ Enfants (1925)

When: Sunday early afternoon
Director: Jacques Feyder
Duration: 116 minutes
Presented by: Julie Rigg from Radio National Movie Time

This film will be screened through digital presentation. The film is a digital restoration of the new cooperative restoration efforts by four European Archives, with a new score composed by Antonio Coppola and performed by the Octour de France.

Visages d'enfants (Faces of Children) (1923, released 1925) Produced and Directed by Jacques Feyder; Written by Feyder and Francoise Rosay; Photographed by Leonce-Henri Burel and Paul Parquel. Cast: Victor Vina (Pierre Amsler); Jean Forest (Jean Amsler, his son); Rachel Devirys (Jeanne Dutois); Henri Duval, Pierrette Houyze. Music by Antonio Coppola.

"Besides the tryptich of Napoleon and The Italian Straw Hat, if I could select only one film from the entire French production of the 1920s, surely it is Faces of Children that I would save." -- Jean Mitry, History of World Cinema

One of the most beautiful and moving films of the silent era, Faces of Children is a powerful portrait of childhood grief and alienation, exquisitely filmed and acted with utter conviction on all fronts. The star of the film is unequivocally the young Jean Forest. His portrayal of a boy tortured by grief and then driven to spite his stepmother and stepsister is harrowingly believable, giving the film the stark poignancy which only François Truffaut's 1959 film The 400 Blows can match. The scenes in which the grieving boy tries to evoke the memory of his dead mother have a pathos that transcends conventional melodrama; this is raw emotion depicted with an unfaltering sense of truth.

By the time the film reaches its dramatic highpoint, the spectator is overwhelmed with concern for the guilt-stricken Jean as he faces up to his hopeless situation. The last ten minutes of this extraordinary work are quite possibly the most emotionally exhausting of any film from this era, with each second filled with tension and dread anticipation of what the next moment might bring.

Until now, Jacques Feyder has been unjustly reduced almost to a footnote in film history, but these beautifully-restored editions with stunning tints and new orchestral scores reveal him as one of the finest silent film directors in Europe. Following these accomplishments, Feyder was invited to Hollywood in 1929 to direct two outstanding films with Greta Garbo, The Kiss and the German version of Anna Christie, and to London for Marlene Dietrich in Knight without Armour; he is probably best remembered for Carnival in Flanders (La Kermesse heroique, 1935), which, unfortunately, was cut by about one-third for American release. Queen of Atlantis (L'Atlantide), based upon Pierre Benoit's best-selling exotic novel of the French foreign legion and the woman no man can resist, was filmed under grueling conditions on location in the Sahara and in a large tent studio outside of Algiers.

The desert, with its burning sun and vast expanse of sand, is the real star of this adventure, the most expensive French film until that time. It was hailed as a revelation, and ran for a year in Paris. Crainquebille is the name of a fruit and vegetable peddler (Maurice de Feraudy) who, accused of having insulted a policeman, becomes trapped in the bureaucratic web of French justice. He is sent to jail; after release, his bourgeois customers shun him, but at the point of suicide he is redeemed by an orphan newsboy (Jean Forest, an amazingly sensitive and expressive child found by Feyder on the streets of Montmartre). Feyder filmed on location around the market area of Les Halles and in some of the oldest areas of Paris. D. W. Griffith allegedly said of Crainquebille, "I have seen a film which, for me, precisely symbolizes Paris." Faces of Children (Visages d'enfants), a masterpiece, was filmed on location in the Haut-Valais region of Switzerland, with spectacular mountain scenery adding important atmosphere to the characters' complex emotions. The film is about the effect on a sensitive boy (again Jean Forest, who is heartrending) of his mother's death and his father's remarriage.