A great—and previously unknown to me—achievement of the silent era is Jean Epstein’s La Coeur fidèle (France, 1923), also known as Faithful Heart. Having recently received a simply awe-inspiring Blu-ray release from Masters of Cinema, the impeccable technical quality of this release spectacularly showcases one of the most visually ravishing and stunningly beautiful silent films I’ve ever encountered.
And for my money, Gina Manès legitimately gives Falconetti a run for her money as the great face of silent cinema, giving a performance that is built and sustained solely through the emotions conveyed through her remarkably expressive eyes. Otherwise she’s languid to the point of woodeness, though that’s also the case with all of the performances in the film. Only the performance by Epstein’s sister, who I was shocked to find out is none other than the great unheralded director Marie Epstein, achieves its resonance through any kind of physical action; otherwise this is a film involving turbulent emotions swirling beneath stoic faces and (with the notable exception of the magnificently rendered seascapes) statically rendered, claustrophobic interior spaces.
But if the melodramatic plot is a bit silly and the performances of the type that involve sad-eyed offscreen gazing that sometimes feels endless, La Coeur fidèle is otherwise a directoral tour-de-force, with the intense emotions conjured up through Epstein’s montage editing, juxtaposing beautiful images of churning water, evocatively desolate seaside quays, etc. to slowly build to a shattering and haunting conclusion. I’m sure this all has to do with Epstein’s own theories of cinema (he was a writer and film theorist before he took up actual filmmaking), of which I hate to admit I’m completely ignorant of at this time. But I have Fall of the House of Usher (1928) in my possession for viewing, and I’ve been inspired to explore Epstein’s work more fully in the immediate future.
Memories of a Movie: