Faces of Children

Last updated

Faces of Children /
Visages d'enfants
Film poster
Directed by Jacques Feyder
Written byJacques Feyder
Françoise Rosay
Dimitri De Zoubaloff
Produced byDimitri De Zoubaloff
Arthur-Adrien Porchet
StarringJean Forest
Cinematography Léonce-Henri Burel
Paul Parguel
Edited byJacques Feyder
Distributed byLes Grands Films Indépendants; Jean de Merly / Étoile-Film
Release date
  • 24 January 1925 (1925-01-24)
Running time
117 minutes
Languages Silent
French intertitles

Faces of Children (French : Visages d'enfants) is a 1925 French-Swiss silent film directed by Jacques Feyder. It tells the story of a young boy whose mother has died and the resentments which develop when his father remarries. It was a notable example of film realism in the silent era, and its psychological drama was integrated with the natural landscapes of Switzerland where much of the film was made on location.



After the death of his wife, Pierre Amsler, the mayor ("président") of the village of Saint-Luc in the mountainous Haut-Valais region of Switzerland, is left to bring up his two children, Jean (c. 10 years old) and Pierrette (c. 5 years old). He sends his son away with his godfather, Canon Taillier, while he remarries with Jeanne Dutois, a widow with a daughter of her own (Arlette). When Canon Taillier breaks the news to Jean of his father's marriage, Jean is upset but promises to try to respect the decision.

When Jean returns home, he becomes resentful of his stepmother Jeanne whom he sees usurping his mother's place, and his feelings find their outlet in his growing hostility towards Arlette. Finding that his spacious bedroom is now occupied by Arlette and Pierrette and that he now has a smaller room, Jean takes the only portrait of his mother to his new room for comfort. While playing with Pierrette, he refuses to let Arlette join them, even though she and Pierrette got along well. When he sees Jeanne take a dress that his mother wore to make dresses for the two girls, he ruins it intentionally and is punished by Pierre for his behavior.

Jean and Arlette now despise each other. One day in winter while travelling in a sled, Jean surreptitiously throws Arlette's beloved childhood doll onto the track. That night, he tricks Arlette into venturing out onto the snow-covered mountain by telling her where her doll fell. Arlette gets lost and takes refuge in a chapel which becomes covered by an avalanche. Stricken with guilt, Jean tells Pierre what he has done, and a search party rescues Arlette from the chapel. Jean is silently reproached by his family for what he did to Arlette. When he turns to his mother's portrait for consolation, it appears faded and distant (implying his mother is disappointed in Jean for his behavior).

Next day Jean writes a letter of apology to his father, saying that he is going away, and he asks Arlette and Pierrette to deliver it. He goes to a nearby stream, where he has seen an image of his mother smiling at him, and prepares to drown himself. The girls tell Jeanne of his departure and she goes in search of him. She finds him just as he falls into the stream, and she wades into the fast-running water to rescue him. As Jeanne comforts him back in his room, Jean finally accepts her as his new mother.



Jacques Feyder received a film commission from two Swiss producers, Dimitri de Zoubaleff and Arthur-Adrien Porchet, who were based in Lausanne, and he offered them Visages d'enfants. Feyder wrote his own original screenplay, assisted by his wife Françoise Rosay, taking a modern and unsentimental view of unhappy childhood and giving a psychologically realistic view of all the characters. He also embedded the story in a "social study of an isolated Catholic community's rituals and customs, in a landscape that alternately separates, endangers, and forces people closer together". [1]

His ambitions for the film were greatly helped by the natural talent of the child actor Jean Forest in the central role; Feyder and Rosay had discovered him in the streets of Montmartre and he had featured in Feyder's previous film Crainquebille . During the spring and summer of 1923 (4 May - 2 August) filming of the many exterior scenes took place in the Haut-Valais and in the village of Grimentz, bringing landscapes prominently into view throughout the film. Feyder's cameraman, Léonce-Henri Burel, who had worked regularly with Abel Gance, achieved some striking visual effects, such as the night scenes of the search party lit by torches (instead of the more usual day for night technique); he also employed a subjective camera viewpoint to depict the onward rush of an avalanche. Local people were used as extras to play peasants and villagers, notably in the funeral and wedding scenes; (many of them had never seen a film or a camera before). Interior scenes were shot at the Studios des Réservoirs at Joinville in Paris (10 August – 6 October). (During shooting at Joinville, Feyder went to Vienna to negotiate his next contract: his wife Françoise Rosay stood in for him as director while he was away.) [2]

After shooting was completed, Feyder had a disagreement with the distribution company Les Grands Films Indépendants, which impounded the film stock from January to May 1924. Feyder had to wait for a nearly a year before he was able to complete the editing. The release of the film did not take place until 1925, two years after work on it had begun.


The film opened in March 1925 at the Montparnasse cinema in Paris. It was immediately acclaimed as a landmark by critics. It was not however popular with the public and it became a commercial failure. Its critical prestige brought it some distribution abroad, and in Japan in 1926 the press named it as the best European film of the year. [1]

Later assessments have continued to value it for its simple intimacy and emotional poignancy, and for "the unusual authenticity of its natural and social milieu". The opening sequence in particular, depicting a village funeral, and lasting for about 11 minutes, has been admired for the skill of its exposition which combines narrative clarity with social detail and psychological insight. [3] Georges Sadoul regarded Visages d'enfants as one of Feyder's best films; [4] and Jean Mitry in 1973 declared that, apart from the triptych in Gance's Napoléon and Clair's Un chapeau de paille d'Italie, of all the French productions of the 1920s, Visages d'enfants was the one he would choose to save: it was the most consistent, even and balanced, the only one which was still today resolutely modern. [5]


After the film's commercial failure, the negative disappeared, and until the 1980s it was largely known through incomplete and poor quality copies. In 1986 the Cinémathèque royale de Belgique made a first restoration of the film using material held in Brussels, Amsterdam and Lausanne, together with some material already restored by the Cinémathèque française. This version lacked intertitles and colour tinting. In 1993 the Belgian and French cinematheques were assisted by Gosfilmofond (Moscow) and Nederlands Filmmuseum (Amsterdam) in a new restoration which added colour tinting. In 2004 Lobster Films (Paris) completed the restoration using digital technology to reduce spots and marks in the images, and the original French intertitles were restored. A new score (for octet) was commissioned from Antonio Coppola.

Related Research Articles

<i>Napoléon</i> (1927 film) 1927 film by Abel Gance

Napoléon is a 1927 French silent epic historical film, produced, and directed by Abel Gance that tells the story of Napoleon's early years. On screen, the title is Napoléon vu par Abel Gance, meaning "Napoleon as seen by Abel Gance". The film is recognised as a masterwork of fluid camera motion, produced in a time when most camera shots were static. Many innovative techniques were used to make the film, including fast cutting, extensive close-ups, a wide variety of hand-held camera shots, location shooting, point of view shots, multiple-camera setups, multiple exposure, superimposition, underwater camera, kaleidoscopic images, film tinting, split screen and mosaic shots, multi-screen projection, and other visual effects. A revival of Napoléon in the mid-1950s influenced the filmmakers of the French New Wave. The film used the Keller-Dorian cinematography for its color sequences.

Henri Langlois French film archivist

Henri Langlois was a French film archivist and cinephile. A pioneer of film preservation, Langlois was an influential figure in the history of cinema. His film screenings in Paris in the 1950s are often credited with providing the ideas that led to the development of the auteur theory.

Abel Gance French film director and producer

Abel Gance was a French film director and producer, writer and actor. A pioneer in the theory and practice of montage, he is best known for three major silent films: J'accuse (1919), La Roue (1923), and Napoléon (1927).

René Clair French filmmaker and writer

René Clair born René-Lucien Chomette, was a French filmmaker and writer. He first established his reputation in the 1920s as a director of silent films in which comedy was often mingled with fantasy. He went on to make some of the most innovative early sound films in France, before going abroad to work in the UK and USA for more than a decade. Returning to France after World War II, he continued to make films that were characterised by their elegance and wit, often presenting a nostalgic view of French life in earlier years. He was elected to the Académie française in 1960. Clair's best known films include Un chapeau de paille d'Italie, Sous les toits de Paris, Le Million (1931), À nous la liberté (1931), I Married a Witch (1942), and And Then There Were None (1945).

Jean Mitry

Jean-René Pierre Goetgheluck Le Rouge Tillard des Acres de Presfontaines, whose pseudonym was Jean Mitry, was a French film theorist, critic and filmmaker, a co-founder of France's first film society, and, in 1938, of the Cinémathèque Française.

Jacques Feyder was a Belgian actor, screenwriter and film director who worked principally in France, but also in the US, Britain and Germany. He was a director of silent films during the 1920s, and in the 1930s he became associated with the style of poetic realism in French cinema. He adopted French nationality in 1928.

Françoise Rosay French actress and singer

Françoise Rosay was a French opera singer, diseuse, and actress who enjoyed a film career of over sixty years and who became a legendary figure in French cinema. She went on to appear in over 100 movies in her career.

Lazare Meerson (1900–1938) was a Russian-born cinema art director. After emigrating to France in the early 1920s, he worked on French films of the late silent cinema and the early 1930s, particularly those directed by René Clair and Jacques Feyder. He worked in England during the last two years of his life. He had great influence on film set design in France in the years before World War II.

Philippe Hériat French actor and writer

Philippe Hériat was a multi-talented French novelist, playwright and actor.

<i>Carnival in Flanders</i> (film) 1935 film

Carnival in Flanders is a 1935 French historical romantic comedy film directed by Jacques Feyder. It is also widely known under its original title in French, La Kermesse héroïque. A German-language version of the film was made simultaneously and was released under the title Die klugen Frauen, featuring Ernst Schiffner in one of his early film roles.

Charles Vanel French actor and director

Charles-Marie Vanel was a French actor and director. During his 76-year film career, which began in 1912, he appeared in more than 200 films and worked with many prominent directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, Luis Buñuel, Jacques Feyder, and Henri-Georges Clouzot. He is perhaps best remembered for his role as a desperate truck driver in Clouzot's The Wages of Fear for which he received a Special Mention at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953.

Gina Manès French actress

Gina Manès was a French film actress and a major star of French silent cinema. After an early appearance in a Louis Feuillade film, she had significant roles in films of Germaine Dulac and Jean Epstein, including Cœur fidèle.

<i>Jaccuse</i> (1919 film) 1919 French silent film

J'accuse is a 1919 French silent film directed by Abel Gance. It juxtaposes a romantic drama with the background of the horrors of World War I, and it is sometimes described as a pacifist or anti-war film. Work on the film began in 1918, and some scenes were filmed on real battlefields. The film's powerful depiction of wartime suffering, and particularly its climactic sequence of the "return of the dead", made it an international success, and confirmed Gance as one of the most important directors in Europe.

<i>Le Grand Jeu</i> (1934 film) 1934 film

Le Grand Jeu is a 1934 French film directed by Jacques Feyder. It is a romantic drama set against the background of the French Foreign Legion, and the film was an example of poetic realism in the French cinema. The title Le Grand Jeu refers to the practice of reading the cards. Blanche asks whether her client wants the 'full works', the whole story: "Alors... je te fais le grand jeu?"

<i>Pension Mimosas</i> 1935 film

Pension Mimosas is a 1935 French drama film directed by Jacques Feyder. Based on an original scenario by Feyder and Charles Spaak, it is a psychological drama set largely in a small hotel on the Côte d'Azur, and it provided Françoise Rosay with one of the most substantial acting roles of her career. It was produced by the French subsidiary of the German company Tobis Film.

Marie Epstein was an actress, scenarist, film director, and film preservationist. Her career is distinguished by three important collaborations. Throughout the 1920s, she acted in and wrote scenarios for films directed by her brother, Jean Epstein. From the 1920s through the early 1950s, she collaborated with the director Jean Benoît-Lévy on sixteen films, serving variously as a writer, assistant director, and co-director. From the early 1950s to her retirement in 1977, Epstein served as a film preservationist at the Cinémathèque française.

<i>Back Streets of Paris</i> 1946 film

Back Streets of Paris is a 1946 French drama film directed by Marcel Blistène. Jacques Feyder also contributed to the film in the role of artistic director.

Léonce-Henri Burel was a French cinematographer whose career extended from the silent era until the early 1970s. He was the director of photography on more than 120 films, working almost exclusively in black-and-white.

<i>Gribiche</i> (film) 1926 film

Gribiche is a 1926 French silent film directed by Jacques Feyder based on the eponymous short story by writer Frédéric Boutet.

<i>Le Brasier ardent</i> 1923 film by Ivan Mosjoukine

Le Brasier ardent is a 1923 French film directed by Ivan Mosjoukine. It combines elements of comedy, mystery, romance and psychological drama. The title has been variously translated into English as The Blazing Inferno, The Burning Crucible, The Burning Brazier, The Burning Cauldron, and Burning Embers.


  1. 1 2 Richard Abel, French Cinema: the First Wave 1915-1929, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984) p.104.
  2. Serge Bromberg, in the spoken introduction to the Lobster DVD release (2006).
  3. Richard Abel, French Cinema: the First Wave 1915-1929, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984) pp.104-105.
  4. Georges Sadoul, Le Cinéma français (1890-1962), (Paris: Flammarion, 1962) p.48.
  5. Jean Mitry, in Histoire du cinéma; vol.3 (Paris: Éditions universitaires, 1973) p.372: "A l'exception des triptyques de Napoléon (Gance) et du Chapeau de paille d'Italie (Clair), s'il me fallait retenir un seul film de toute la production française de cette décennie , c'est assurément Visages d'enfants que je retiendrais... C'est le plus homogène, le plus égal, le mieux équilibré, le seul qui soit encore aujourd'hui résolument moderne ".