FACES OF CHILDREN (France-Swi / 1925)
The opening moments of Jacques Feyders Faces of Children (Visages denfants), which is set in a remote village in the mountainous Haut-Valais region of Switzerland, comprise of a funeral procession. We learn that the mayors wife and the mother of two has just passed away. While the 4-year-old Pierrette is too young to comprehend the loss, the 11-year-old Jean is deeply affected and is simply unable to come to terms with it. He even attempts to keep her mothers memory alive by communicating with her portrait. In the meantime, for the sake of the house and to have someone look after Pierrette, their father Pierre decides to remarry. Considering the delicacy of the situation, Pierre asks the local priest to break the news to his sensitive young son. Upon being briefed of the matter, Jean is perplexed. But any goodwill intentions dissipate rather quickly once he comes across his acerbic stepsister. Things go from bad to worse when Jean notices that the stepmother is wearing his dead mothers broach. At this point Jeans true feelings come to the forefront, allowing him to invent coarse and cruel ways to hurt the new members of his family.
Both subtle and operatic, Faces of Children is one of the most formally accomplished silents Ive seen so far. Feyders penchant for detail becomes apparent in the opening sequence as the casket gets descended downstairs. The remarkable subsequent overhead shots of the landscape and the streets with the people spilling out to watch are just as effective and affecting. And Feyder outdoes himself with a Gance-like montage at the graveyard. (The films primary cinematographer is Lonce-Henri Burel, who went on to work with Bresson.) Jean is played by Jean Forest, whom the filmmaker earlier introduced in Crainquebille (1922). His portrayal of a conflicted young boy is authentic and moving. While Feyder and Franoise Rosay, the writing and real-life partners, often employ Jeans point-of-view, they are sympathetic towards everyone whos become part of this predicament. The new music by Antonio Coppola also adds to the proceedings. Its hard to imagine that a lyrical and poetic effort like Faces of Children was once believed to be lost. Recently, the film has also been restored to its original color tinting by the Netherlands Filmmuseum (Amsterdam) in collaboration with the Cinmathque Franaise (Paris), Cinmathque Royale (Brussels), and Gosfilmofond (Moscow).