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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Rediscover Jacques Feyder: French Film Master (1921-23)

"You shouldn't owe a man who's arrested. I think it's even against the law."
- Madame Bayard (Jeanne Cheirel)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: October 23, 2006

Stars: Stacia Napierkowska, Jean Angelo, Georges Melchoir, Marie-Louis Irebe, Maurice de Feraudy, Felix Oudart, Jean Forest, Marguerrite Carre, Victor Vina, Pierrette Houyez, Arlette Peyran, Rachel Devirys
Director: Jacques Feyder

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for adult themes, brief violence
Run Time: 05h:55m:23s
Release Date: October 24, 2006
UPC: 014381352023
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A BA-B+ F

DVD Review

French director Jacques Feyder is one of those beneficiaries of the DVD age, as a trio of his films, long-forgotten to most, make their U.S. debut in a three-disc set from Home Vision/Image. Feyder worked in film from 1915 through the mid-1940s, but his profile ebbed quickly. However, thanks to these restorations, done by a coalition of European film organizations, his reputation should hopefully recover some luster. All three are excellent, with Faces of Another my personal favorite of the set. The packaging leaves something to be desired, but don't let that put you off; the films within more than make up for the rest.

The first disc holds Queen of Atlantis (L'Atlantide) (1921) (02h:42m:31s). An adaptation of Pierre Benoit's 1919 novel of the same title, Queen proves a daunting viewing experience at 163 minutes, much of it mood-setting material rather than plot and action. Set in the Sahara, it benefits hugely from location filming, providing a veneer of reality it would be hard-pressed to match in the studio. The story is told in flashback by Saint-Avit (Georges Melchoir), found in the desert near death. His comrade Morhange (Jean Angelo) is nowhere to be found, and Saint-Avit's delirious ramblings lead the brass to conclude that Saint-Avit may have killed the man. The truth of the matter is narrated by Saint-Avit to another officer, Ferrieres (Rene Lorsay), as we discover that Saint-Avit and Morhange fell into the clutches of Antinea (Stacia Napierkowska), the queen of the last surviving bit of Atlantis. The queen has an unusual way of dealing with her consorts, and the two men are about to be the latest in line.

Queen suffers most from its length, with too many scenes going nowhere for the amount of plot. Feyder presumably made the questionable decision to cast Napierkowska as the queen, a woman we are supposed to believe can bend men to her will through sheer sexual power and magnetism. Unfortunately, the queen is a chunky, unattractive woman with no personality to speak of, beyond acutely developed homicidal tendencies. A shallow complaint I know, but when a character is supposed to be the sex bomb to top them all, it would help if she's even remotely convincing as such. Morhange, who spurns her, seems the smartest guy in the film. We're supposed to take her power as a given, but you can't accept something that isn't there to begin with. Queen remains compelling enough to keep watching due to its striking set design and photography, though, and the pulpy story is entertaining enough in its own way. The score by Eric le Guen is fine, if sometimes too synthetic sounding.

Disc 2 has 1922's Crainquebille (01h:16m:06s), a film diametrically opposed to Queen of Atlantis in tone and content. The title character (Maurice de Fèraudy) is an elderly peddler selling vegetables from his cart, which he walks through his Paris neighborhood. While waiting for a customer to pay her bill, police Agent 64 (Fèlix Oudart) mishears the old man, and believing he said "kill the cops," has Crainquebille thrown in jail. After a nightmarish trial demonstrating the full corruption and incompetence of the French legal system, Crainquebille serves a brief two-week sentence, only to find that his customers turn their noses up at him now, believing him to be worthless riff-raff. Crainquebille sinks into booze and despair before his salvation arrives.

As an attack on the French legal system, Crainquebille is hardly subtle; everyone in the system is corrupt or incompetent or both, with little interest in carrying out the law as it should be. The real interest is in watching Fèraudy’s performance as Crainquebille, all befuddlement and good-natured confusion as he enjoys the relative comforts of prison and tries to understand his trial. Feyder uses his camera to its best advantage here, with several beautiful shots, even throwing in some quality effects work in showing Crainquebille's perspective during the trial and a concerned doctor's (Renè Worms) nightmare. In the wrong hands, the finale could have been grotesque and over-sentimental, but Feyder judged it rightly and it has as much impact as a clichéd ending could have.

Finally, we come to the masterpiece of the set, 1923's Faces of Children (aka Visages d'enfants) (01h:56m:46s). Jean (Jean Forest) is a boy whose mother has died. Crushed by this event, his life is thrown into more confusion when his father (Victor Vina) marries a widow with a daughter of her own. Jean's difficult relationship with the girl, Arlette (Arlette Peyran) finally reaches the breaking point and tragedy looms.

Forest turns in a remarkably sensitive performance as the confused Jean, and the script doesn’t pander to clichés, painting everyone in shades of gray rather than simple good or evil. Jean's struggle to come to terms with his mother's death thus takes on greater poignancy as he is the real obstacle to accepting his new family. Like Queen of Atlantis, Faces benefits from its gorgeous backdrop, a Swiss mountain village. One could almost view the film as a early mountain film, given the emphasis on natural surroundings, and the way a rescue plays into the final sequences. The cruelty of the surroundings emphasizes the reliance the citizens must place on each other, especially families, and how shocking Jean's final act toward Arlette is. Again, Feyder provides some dazzling sequences, like Jean's walk to the graveyard at the beginning, a rapid succession of POV shots illustrating his scattered mental state beautifully. It’s more sophisticated filmmaking than many would expect from the era.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: These films were originally restored in Europe for release there, and the transfers look to have been corrected for PAL speed-up, as they match the runtimes I was able to find online (not the most reliable source, I'll grant). This assumes new NTSC transfers were not done, which seems unlikely. Feyder rarely moves his camera, so any PAL-sourced ghosting/smearing issues are minimal, given that lack of movement. All three transfers looked excellent on my player; any flaws are inherent in the materials themselves, which feature their share of speckling and other damage. Faces suffers from one instance of severe damage 39 minutes in, but otherwise these films look quite good. The two later films feature new English intertitles, but Queen includes the original French titles with optional English subs.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0music onlyno


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 2.0 track is perfectly fine for the musical scores, which are good enough, never detracting from the action onscreen.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: unknown double keepcase
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Nothing. Some kind of liner notes or commentary would have been nice, to place Feyder in some kind of wider context, in addition to whatever information we could learn about the films themselves. I certainly wanted to know more about the films and Feyder after having watched this set. A lost opportunity, especially since the set is billed as "rediscovering" Feyder.

Extras Grade: F

 

Final Comments

For silent film fans, this is simply a "must have", despite the unappealing packaging and lack of any extras. All three films are filled with wonderful stuff, and contain some great filmmaking. The discs look and sound fine, though the lack of extras is a disappointment, given the already low profile of the director.

 


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