Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Léon Frapié. Scen.: Marie Epstein, Jean Benoît-Levy. F.: Georges Asselin. Scgf.: Robert Bassi. Mus.: Édouard Flament, Alice Verlay. Int.: Madeleine Renaud (Rose), Paulette Élambert (Marie Coeuret), Henri Debain (il dottor Libois), Mady Berry (Madame Paulin), Edmond van Daële (papà Paulin), Alice Tissot (la direttrice), Sylvette Fillacier (Madame Coeuret), Aman Maistre (Monsieur Antoine). Prod.: Jean Benoît- Levy. 35mm. D.: 98’. Bn.
La Maternelle, co-directed with Jean Benoît-Levy, is the most well-known film of Marie Epstein’s directorial work. The movie explores the relationship between a young woman, Rose (Madeleine Renaud), and a little girl, Marie, a child at the kindergarten where Rose works who is emotionally scarred by her mother’s abandonment. Like the films she worked on with her brother Jean, Marie Epstein plays with the themes of femininity and motherhood in contrast with erotic passion; even if she was not a declared feminist, her work is marked by a special attention and sensitivity to female characters and, as a result, by a feminine point of view not common in French film at that time.
There are two core aspects of the film. The first is the focus on a desire other than an erotic desire, which normally characterize narrative film storylines: the explosion of a child’s and feminine point of view within the picture constituted something new in comparison to the tenets of classic narrative film and an attempt to break away from the leading themes of mainstream European cinema of the 1930s. The second is the embryonic ‘architecture of vision’ established by Marie Epstein. Embryonic because posing vision as an explicit issue is missing in her work. There is, however, an emergence of the moment of vision as such, which can be seen in the documentary-pedagogical tendencies of much French cinema of the 1930s and comes to light, on the one hand, with the use of stylistic devices developed by the première garde and, on the other, is shaped by the original forms of representing a unique subjectivity and desire. In this sense, we can recognize in La Maternelle a pervasive attention to the movement of looking and the construction of the ‘vision that makes the film’, which undoubtedly is not an insignificant part of reflection on cinematic vision.