Scen.: Jean Epstein, Marie Epstein. F.: Paul Guichard. Int.: Gina Manès (Marie), Léon Mathot (Jean), Edmond van Daële (Petit-Paul), Mademoiselle Marice [Marie Epstein] (la zoppa), Madeleine Erikson (la ragazza del porto), Claude Bénédict (papà Hochon), Madame Manfroy (mamma Hochon). Prod: Pathé Consortium Cinéma. 35mm. L.: 1721 m. D.: 84’ a 18 f/s. Bn and Tinted.
Cœur fidèle was the fourth film directed by Jean Epstein, and it was his second produced by Pathé Consortium Cinéma, which he shot three other films for in 1923, including La Belle Nivernaise. The film tells the tragic story of Marie, an orphan exploited by the owners of a bar in the port of Marseille, who have promised her in marriage to rogue Petit-Paul, but she is head over heels in love with honest port worker Jean. The lovers try desperately to run away together with the help of their crippled neighbor, played by Mademoiselle Marice, a.k.a. Marie Epstein.
At the time Marie Epstein aspired to be an actress and appeared in several of her brother’s films. In Cœur fidèle she not only played an important supporting role, but she also worked on the screenplay. It should be noted that the names of the two lovers are the names of the Epstein siblings. The neighbor figure is the point of contact between Marie and Jean – that For ever carved in stone – and the person who destroys the unhappy love triangle. Fragile, shaky yet invulnerable, she embodies the determination, altruism and desire to free them as if her own future depended on it.
Defined by Henri Langlois as “a Quai des brumes of the 1920s” for the poetic qualities of the docks and slums, the film was shot in May and June of 1923 in Marseille and Manosque (the interiors were shot at the des Vignerons studios in Vincennes). It was the culmination of “photogenic movement”.
Epstein used the devices of film language (soft focus, distortions, double exposures, close ups), brilliantly experimented with fast editing, and transformed the merry-go-round scene into the visual subject of the film. “I want a drama on a merry-go-round with wooden horses or a more modern one with airplanes. The surrounding booths would gradually become indistinct” (Jean Epstein).
The film was released on September 7, 1923, with four shots removed by censors (including the second gunshot scene). Reactions were strong and mixed, and the film was both lauded and disapproved of before being taken off the screen and later re-released in December 1924. Epstein earned the admiration of his peers and immediately became part of French avantgarde cinema.