Jacques Feyder

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Jacques Feyder
Portrait of Jacques Feyder.png
Feyder in 1925
Jacques Léon Louis Frédérix

(1885-07-21)21 July 1885
Ixelles, Belgium
Died24 May 1948(1948-05-24) (aged 62)
Prangins, Switzerland
Spouse Françoise Rosay (1917–1948, his death)

Jacques Feyder (French: [fɛ.dɛʁ] ; 21 July 1885 24 May 1948) was a Belgian film director, screenwriter and actor 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.



Born Jacques Léon Louis Frédérix in Ixelles, Belgium, he was educated at the École régimentaire in Nivelles, and was destined for a military career. At age twenty-five however he moved to Paris where he pursued an interest in acting, first on stage and then in film, adopting the name Jacques Feyder. He joined the Gaumont Film Company and in 1914 he became an assistant director with Gaston Ravel. He started directing films for Gaumont in 1916, but his career was interrupted by service with the Belgian Army from 1917 to 1919 during World War I.

Henry Roussel and Albert Prejean (right) in Les Nouveaux Messieurs (1929) Henry Roussel.jpg
Henry Roussel and Albert Préjean (right) in Les Nouveaux Messieurs (1929)

After the end of the war, he returned to filmmaking and quickly built a reputation as one of the most innovative directors in French cinema. L'Atlantide (1921) (based on the novel by Pierre Benoit), and Crainquebille (1922) (from the novel by Anatole France) were his first major films to achieve public and critical attention. He followed these with Visages d'enfants (filmed in 1923 but not released until 1925) which proved to be one of his most personal and enduring films. Shortly after this, Feyder was offered a post as artistic director of a new film company, Vita Films, in Vienna, along with a contract to make three films. He made Das Bildnis (L'Image) (1923), but the company failed and he returned to Paris. [1] He re-established himself with Gribiche (1926) and the literary adaptations of Carmen (1926) and Thérèse Raquin (1928). He also contributed screenplays of films for other directors, notably Poil de carotte (1925) for Julien Duvivier, and Gardiens de phare (1929) for Jean Grémillon. His last silent film in France was Les Nouveaux Messieurs , a topical political satire which provoked calls for it to be banned in France for "insulting the dignity of parliament and its ministers". [2]

By this time Feyder had accepted an offer from MGM to work in Hollywood, where in 1929 his first project was directing Greta Garbo in The Kiss , her last silent film. It was in Hollywood that he made the transition to sound films; even before he had worked with sound films, Feyder declared himself to be a firm believer in their future, in contrast with some of his French contemporaries. [3] In 1930, he directed Jetta Goudal in her only French language film made in Hollywood, Le Spectre vert. His subsequent work in the US consisted mainly of directing foreign-language versions of American films, including a German version of Anna Christie , again with Garbo.

Disillusioned with the Hollywood system, Feyder returned to France in 1933. During the next three years he made three of his most successful films, all of them in collaboration with screenwriter Charles Spaak and featuring Françoise Rosay in a leading role. Le Grand Jeu (1934) and Pension Mimosas (1935) were both significant creations in the style of poetic realism; La Kermesse héroïque (1935) (also known as Carnival in Flanders) was a meticulously staged period film which aroused some contemporary political resonances; it earned Feyder several international awards. [4] [5]

Feyder went on to direct films in England and Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II, but with diminishing success. Following the Nazi occupation in 1940, which led to the banning of La Kermesse héroïque, he left France for the safety of Switzerland, and directed a last film there, Une femme disparaît (1942). [6]

In 1917, Feyder had married Parisian-born actress Françoise Rosay with whom he had three sons; she acted in many of his films and collaborated with him as writer and assistant director on Visages d'enfants. Jacques Feyder died in 1948 at Prangins, Switzerland, and he was buried in the Cimetière de Sorel Moussel, Eure et Loir, France. A school (lycée) in Épinay-sur-Seine in the north of Paris was named in his honour in 1977; Épinay was the location of the Tobis film studios where Feyder made Le Grand Jeu and Pension Mimosas.


In 1944 Feyder and Françoise Rosay published Le Cinéma, notre métier, an autobiographical memoir of their work together in the cinema, in which Feyder stated that he regarded himself as an artisan, a craftsman of filmmaking. Some critics have been content to take him at his word and to look no further for any underlying vision of the world. He was however insistent upon his creative independence, demonstrated by his willingness to make his films in so many different countries if the conditions of production appeared favourable. Recurrent themes in his work include the reckless love of a mysterious or unknown woman (L'Atlantide, L'Image, Carmen, Le Grand Jeu), the gap between reality and the vision that someone has of it (Crainquebille, Gribiche, Les Nouveaux Messieurs, La Kermesse héroïque), and maternal love (Gribiche, Visages d'enfants, Pension Mimosas). [7]

His style was characterised by a classical balance and moderation, composition of images that was beautiful without becoming gratuitous, and a sympathetic rapport with actors. Above all his films achieved an atmosphere of realism, whether through the accumulation of judiciously chosen detail, the use of location shooting, or the use of elaborately designed sets; (he worked closely with Lazare Meerson on several of his films). [8] In this respect, his adherence to a realistic tradition in French cinema was contrasted with the 'impressionist' style of some contemporaries in the 1920s such as Abel Gance, Marcel L'Herbier, and Jean Epstein, and it pointed the way to the vogue for poetic realism which found its fullest expression in the films of Marcel Carné: Carné worked as assistant director to Feyder in the mid-1930s. [9]

Feyder's relatively early death may have contributed to a fading of interest in his films, reinforced by the hostility of some influential critics associated with Cahiers du cinéma in the 1950s. His younger contemporary René Clair judged in 1970, "Jacques Feyder does not occupy today the place his work and his example should have earned him". [10] Any subsequent reassessment has tended to be hampered by the limited availability of his films in English-speaking countries, with the exception of La Kermesse héroïque which some reckon to have aged less well than other examples of his work. These factors have contributed to a sometimes ambivalent attitude to his work as a whole. [11]



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  1. Oxford Companion to Film, ed. by Liz-Anne Bawden (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976) p.247.
  2. International Dictionary of Film and Filmmakers: vol.2: Directors, ed. by Tom Prendergast and Sarah Prendergast; 4th ed. (Chicago, London: St James Press, 2000) pp.325-328.
  3. Roger Icart, La Révolution du parlant vue par la presse française, (Toulouse: Institut Jean Vigo, 1988); quoted in The French Cinema Book, ed. by Michael Temple and Michael Witt (London: BFI, 2004), p.172.
  4. Jacques Feyder & Françoise Rosay, Le Cinéma, notre métier. Geneva: Albert Skira, 1944. pp. 42-44.
  5. Frédéric Sojcher, "'Belgitude' et européanité dans l'œuvre de Jacques Feyder", in Jacques Feyder, sous la direction de Jean A. Gili et Michel Marie. Paris: Association française de recherche sur l'histoire du cinéma, 1998. pp. 38-41. (1895, numéro hors série. Octobre 1998).
  6. Ephraim Katz, The International Film Encyclopedia, (London: Macmillan, 1980) p.414.
  7. Georges Sadoul, Le Cinéma français, (Paris: Flammarion, 1962) p.48.
  8. Dictionnaire du cinéma populaire français des origines à nos jours, sous la direction de Christian-Marc Bosséno et Yannick Dehée, (Paris: Nouveau Monde Éditions, 2004) p.357.
  9. Jean-Pierre Jeancolas, 15 ans des années trente: le cinéma des français 1929-1944, (Paris: Stock, 1983) p.176.
  10. Quoted in International Dictionary of Film and Filmmakers: vol.2: Directors, ed. by Tom Prendergast and Sarah Prendergast; 4th ed. (Chicago, London: St James Press, 2000) pp.325-328.
  11. E.g. David Thomson, New Biographical Dictionary of Film; 4th ed. (London: Little, Brown, 2002) p.286. "There was a time when Feyder was claimed as a great realist director, when Kermesse héroïque was thought of as an important French film. ...Feyder may be unfairly neglected today just as once he was injudiciously acclaimed."

Further reading