Coeur fidèle (Faithful Heart) (1923) Director: Jean Epstein
Coeur fidèle is a beautiful and slow-moving French Impressionist film. Jean Epstein once said: its purpose was “to win the confidence of those, still so numerous, who believe that only the lowest melodrama can interest the public… to create a melodrama so stripped of all the conventions ordinarily attached to the genre, so sober, so simple, that it might approach the nobility and excellence of tragedy.”
Faithful Heart is a truly beautiful, though sad and somber, French Impressionist film. It is a tragic and reflective film, as is to be expected from a dramatic French picture. It comes highly recommended as it is a brilliant yet sobering little film from the 1920s.
The slow-moving and reflective film plot of this film tells the story of an orphaned girl who works as a server in a coastal bar in Marseille. The bar owner (her step-father) and his wife mistreat her. There is also a local abusive man named Petit Paul who lusts after her, but she is secretly in love with a man named Jean. One day she is forced by her step-family to leave with Paul, while Jean waits patiently for her at their typical meeting place. When she doesn’t arrive, he traces her to the fairgrounds and confronts Petit Paul in a brawl that ends with a policeman being stabbed. In the chaos, Paul escapes but Jean is imprisoned and blamed for the fight.
One year later, he comes back to find her after he is released from prison. She (Marie) and Petit Paul have a baby together and live unhappily as he spends all their money on drinking. Jean attempts to help Marie through their neighbor, an odd crippled woman, but when Paul catches word of a potential rekindled romance he attempts to confront Jean with a gun. Their neighbor steals the gun and shoots and kills Paul. In the end, Marie and Jean are free to live and love happily together, though they cannot live ‘happily ever after’ as the experience they have lived through has taken a toll on their lives.
French Impressionism (in cinema) was a movement in France in the 1920s, not unlike the German Expressionist movement, that focused Examples of films include: Abel Gance’s J’accuse (1919) or La Roue (1922) or Napoleon (1926), Jean Epstein’s Coeur fidèle (1923) or The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), Germaine Dulac’s The Smiling Madame Beudet (1922), Marcel L’Herbier’s El Dorado (1921), Louis Delluc’s La Femme de nulle part (1922), and Jean Renoir’s Nana (1926). It is a difficult movement to characterize, however certain montage cinematic techniques employed by these aforementioned films are employed in films of the impressionist movement.
Jean Epstein (1897-1953) was a noted film director in the French Impressionist movement in the 1920s, as well as a literary critic. He was born in Poland and raised in Switzerland before moving to France and learning the film business under Auguste Lumiere. He directed his first film in 1922. He made his most noted films between 1923 and 1928, with Luis Buñuel working as an assistant director on his noted film version of the Fall of the House of Usher.