Jean Epstein

Sog.: dal racconto omonimo (1831) di Honoré de Balzac. Scen.: Jean Epstein. F.: Raoul Aubourdier. Scgf.: Georges Quénu. Int.: Léon Mathot (Prosper Magnan), Jean-David Evremond (Jean-Frédéric Taillefer), Pierre Hot (il locandiere), Gina Manès (sua figlia), Clairette de Savoye (sua moglie), Marcelle Schmit (Victorine Taillefer), Jaque Christiany (André), Robert Tourneur (Herman), Mme. Delaunay (la strega), Thomy Bourdelle (l’olandese). Prod.: Louis Nalpas per Pathé Consortium Cinéma. 35mm. L.: 1650 m (l. orig.: 1835 m). D.: 72’ a 20 f/s. Bn

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Jean Epstein was just 23 when he wrote his first book, La Poésie d’aujourd’hui, followed by Bonjour, cinéma, both published in 1921. In January 1923, when he was 25, he began shooting his second feature (his first as solo director), L’Auberge rouge; by the end of that year he also directed Cœur fidèle, La Belle nivernaise and the documentary La Montagne infidèle (see Chapter 7). His first feature, the biopic Pasteur, co-directed by Jean Benoît-Lévy, was screened in Turin that May at the Esposizione di Fotografia, Ottica e Cinematografia, one of only two entirely French fiction films in competition. Newspapers and journals were hailing him as his generation’s leading cinéaste-philosopher, and starting in December 1923 he toured France with lectures based on the writings of the Italian film theorist Ricciotto Canudo. As with most enfants terribles, Epstein must have been insufferable in this period, but the superlatives were justifiable.
Curiously, L’Auberge rouge remains an understudied early work, perhaps because Epstein himself, like most virtuosi quick to criticize their youthful creations, expressed dissatisfaction soon after its release. Watching it today, however, we’re struck by the film’s insistent focus on the gaze, together with its psychological acuity and remarkably mature understanding of rhythm and montage, most notably in the celebrated storm sequence, but equally in the dinner party scenes where the camera circles around the table as the story’s web tightens around characters whose lives will be changed by the narrator’s revelation.
The director himself adapted the scenario from Balzac’s short story, making small changes including the introduction of a love interest in the form of Gina Manès. In an interview during the shooting for “Cinémagazine” (23 March 1923), Epstein explained, “I sought to make a film based not on scrupulous staging, but on a thorough psychological study of the characters… My drama will not be ‘external,’ seeking to seduce the eye, but solely ‘internal’; its aim will be above all to capture the hearts of the spectators.”

Jay Weissberg

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