Closed, confined, the French Cinémathèque is not idle. It offers, on its Henri platform, a good hundred films, from silent film masterpieces to westerns, from Jacques Rozier to Raoul Ruiz, from Otar Iosseliani to Jean-Claude Brisseau. And many others. What, above all, to revisit films that we thought we knew well and whose riches we discover. Today we’ll be showing four of Jean Epstein’s (1897-1953) silent films. And first the Lion of the Mughals (1924), between melodrama and great spectacle, the story of an oriental prince driven from power who becomes, in France where he found refuge, an actor out of love for a beautiful countess. And it is a pleasure to see, on the ship of exile, the prince exchanging his jewelry and silk clothes for a three-piece suit. Transformation at sight, miracle of delicately linked images. The very sophisticated world into which he will fall is no less cruel than the court and its betrayals that he has just left. And this is said with an astonishing economy of means: very close-up of the pommel of the cane (open mouth of a dragon) of the producer who makes him sign a wooden check to meet the splendours of an eastern court where the dagger is hidden in the long sleeves of a dream outfit. And then, the lion of the Moguls, it is the actor Ivan Mosjoukine, great Russian actor who was exiled after the revolution of 1917 to work in France with some others who together founded in Montreuil the Studios of the Albatross, where Epstein started. Mosjoukine, velvet eye and wearing a real prince, even in a full jacket. Charm that Epstein took advantage of.
Following films: Double Love (1924), Mauprat (1926), based on a novel by George Sand, either a social melody for the first and a swashbuckling film for the second, where escapades to nature, seaside or wooded countryside, have the same charm: the same joy in filming them. As if it was the first time that we showed them. And finally, the most famous, perhaps, The Fall of House Usher (1928), screenplay by Luis Buñuel, based on two short stories by Edgar Poe, the one whose film bears the name and the oval portrait. The desired effects are very different. Here, anguish, even terror, with insistence on the winds bending the trees, the long walk in the moor to drag the coffin of a dead woman from which escapes a white veil all the more sinister as it is a veil of married.
A word to conclude: the surprising beauty of each of these films, and what we can now see them with a new eye, is that in the variety of genres they offer, from melodrama to terrifying, they tell us about a cinema in the process of inventing its writing. Global writing, since, being silent, they had to make the images speak.
Mosjoukine, velvet eye and wearing a real prince.