Visages d’enfants (1923) Director: Jacques Feyder
“The Faces of Children” is a simple and beautiful film. It is a French-Swiss pastoral movie that takes place amidst the incredible landscape of the village of Saint-Luc in the mountainous Haut-Valais region of Switzerland.
It is a psychological exploration, remarkably complex for the time, and it tells the story of a family whose mother has tragically died. The father struggles and sends his son away to live with his godfather up in the mountains. Meanwhile, father continues on with his life, and eventually falls in love and remarries. When his young son finds out, he returns home and meets his new mother (who has a daughter) with skepticism. He looks to his mother’s portrait on the wall, which comes alive in the boy’s mind. He begins to sabotage his new mother and sister, and in the end he tricks his new sister into wandering into the woods where she becomes trapped in a chapel under an avalanche. After his mother’s portrait appears blurred to him, expressing dissatisfaction with his actions, he goes out into the woods in attempt to drown himself int he river, but he is rescued at the last moment by his new mother, and he finally embraces her while his biological mother’s portrait smiles down upon him.
Jacques Feyder is a lesser-known director of French films during the silent era, a fact lamented by Rene Clair. After directing a few early films, including Visages d’enfants, he came to Hollywood to work on several Greta Garbo pictures, but he soon grew disillusioned with the “system” of Hollywood that stifled creativity. He returned to Europe and directed a number of films, but suddenly passed away in 1948. His wife was a famous French actress named Françoise Rosay, who appeared in a large number of his films, and also helped him co-direct his movies at times.
“The Faces of Children” is a slow-moving, dramatic film that is years ahead of its time. It was praised by critics upon its release, however it was not a financial success among the public. The original negative was presumed lost for years until it turned up in the 1980s and the restoration of the film has been remarkable. “The Faces of Children” has been called one of the best silent French films among certain circles. It is a truly under-appreciated masterpiece of French silent cinema, on par other great French directors like, Abel Gance, Marcel L’Herbier, and Jean Epstein.