Faces of Children (1925)

Jean Forest, Victor Vina, Pierrette Houyez, Jeanne Marie-Laurent,
A man whose wife has died remarries, and his new wife has a daughter of her own from a previous marriage. The man's young son, however, who loved his mother deeply and misses her terribly, resents his father's new wife, not wantin...
  • 7.6 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Dimitri De Zoubaloff, Françoise Rosay, Writer:
  • Jacques Feyder, Director:
  • Aloys de Christen, Arturo Porchet, Producer:
7 / 10

Are You My Mother?

In the mountains of Saint-Luc, devastated pre-teen Jean Forest (as Jean Amsler) attends the funeral of his mother. Too young to understand, little sister Pierrette Houyez (as Pierrette) happily plays at home. She will be told mother is on a trip. Despondent father Victor Vina (as Pierre) is especially concerned about raising his girl without a mother. Soon, he passes on visiting his deceased wife's grave with son Jean to spend time with neighboring widow Rachel Devirys (as Jeanne Dutois). They are married and Ms. Devirys moves in with her own daughter, Arlette Peyran (as Arlette). Shuttled away for the wedding, Jean resents the intrusion...

This excellent silent is almost derailed in the early running. Specifically, it is when young Jean is determined too sensitive to attend his father's second marriage and sent off to live with his godfather (Henri Duval). The kindly priest's mission is to break the news to Jean gently, and return him within a month. It ends with Mr. Duval dropping Jean off some distance from his house; the boy walks home, alone and unannounced. Then Duvall, presumably a close family friend, is not seen again. All in all, this is a strange way for the adults in this drama to treat a child. It illustrates isolation, of course, but could have been left out or done more eloquently...

However, there are no problems understanding this story. In the opening, director Jacques Feyder crushes the screen with the dead mother's coffin, which we see through the eyes of her son. The death of a parent and introduction of a replacement has a profound effect on young Jean. We feel the full weight of that casket. Performers, especially the children, are captured acting naturally. Location photography of the Swiss Alps is beautiful, especially as set up and angled by Mr. Feyder and his crew. The indoor/outdoor sets are terrific, also. And, the ending approaches D.W. Griffith's "Way Down East" (1920) in icy edited excitement.

******** Visages d'enfants (1/24/25) Jacques Feyder ~ Jean Forest, Victor Vina, Rachel Devirys, Henri Duval

7 / 10

A unique and lovely film

This is a unique silent film--partly because of its location and partly because of the story. While "The Faces of Children" was a French-made film, the movie was shot in the French-speaking portion of Switzerland. This provided a wonderful backdrop for the story--with lovely mountains and rustic scenery. As for the story, it was much more personal and sweet than you'd typically see and was very compelling.

The film begins with a funeral. The Mayor's wife has just died--leaving him and his two children behind. After trying to make a go of it, the man realizes he needs a mother for his children and proposes to a local widow--who herself has a young daughter. But, unlike the Brady Bunch, this new blended family did not magically work out--as the parents, in hindsight, did a pretty lousy job of breaking this to the kids--in particular, the 12 year-old boy. It actually came to him as a bit of s surprise--and to make matters worse, they gave his old bedroom to his new step-sister and sister. You could understand how the kid could feel alienated. Over the next few months, the boy (Jean) had a hard time adjusting. Much of his anger was displaced on his step-sister. Ultimately, this resulted in two near-tragedies.

Overall, a very good story that doesn't get too schmaltzy and has a lot of nice action. Well-paced, nice cinematography and very good acting by the children--this one is well worth seeing.

By the way, while it doesn't significantly harm the picture, like many of the silents, a small portion of the film has severely degraded. This is very normal and the damage is minimal but pretty obvious when it occurs. The old nitrate film stock was very unstable and tended to turn to powder, liquefy or even explode!

9 / 10

Child Actors Who Sadly Disappeared from Our Screens

We're in Saint-Luc, a picturesque village in the Upper Valais, and everyone is heading to the Mayor's house to commiserate with him as he mourns the death of his wife. The mayor is Pierre Amsler, played by Victor Vina, but the real lead is his young son Jean, portrayed by Jean Forest. Forest had debuted three years earlier in Crainquebille, a decent expose also directed by Feyder who had apparently discovered Forest on the streets of Paris. By this time though, he's a full twelve years old and with four films behind him, so almost an old hand in the business!

His character is old enough to know something about death and what it means, but his younger sister doesn't have a clue. He walks with his father behind the coffin to see her buried, grieves for her and watches his father's tears with sympathy, while young Pierrette plays with her cat and whatever else she can find. Forest is very good here, all young pillar of strength until he collapses at the graveside, but he's ably assisted by some rapid fire montage work by the editors. This was originally released in 1925 so I wonder if it was before or after Battleship Potemkin with its groundbreaking sequence on the Odessa Steps.

Jean is obviously very attached to his mother, to the degree that he visits her grave every Sunday and sees her portrait come to life and smile at him. However his father feels bad that in the absence of a wife his house and children are being neglected, so he marries again, his new wife being Jeanne Dutois, a young widow who can't pay her rent. This impacts Jean not just because he has a stepmother but because he acquires in the process a stepsister, Arlette, and that leads to plenty of conflict.

The story is solid, very much in the European vein of slow and serious stories full of character development, and that's a good thing. There's decent camera-work too, Feyder and his cinematographers also making plenty of use of the gorgeous countryside to frame his story. It's supposedly France but it was shot in the Swiss Alps and you just can't go wrong with the Swiss Alps as a cinematic background! Feyder seems to be always great when filming in crowds or in public and this film is no exception to that rule. The accompanying 2004 soundtrack by Michael Coppola is great if not awesome, and in fact there's very little bad to say.

The only downside to me was pretty minor, and that was in what seemed to be a little clumsiness in the delivery of some of the actors early on: all adults, I should add, as the children are simply superb. I'm not talking about the traditional overacting of the silent era as this would have been seen as an underplayed film on those grounds. I think it just took a half hour or so for everything to get moving properly, because the film, as you'd expect from the title, is about the kids and maybe the adults had a harder time getting into the story when there were no kids around.

I can't fault any of the scenes that have children in, whether they be between Jean and his stepsister, played by Arlette Dutois, or with adults like Henri Duval as his uncle or Rachel Devirys as his stepmother. It's only early scenes between Vina and Duval or Vina and Devirys that don't quite carry the same weight. Thankfully the children are present for almost the entire film and these scenes are hugely impressive and yet very subtle, often without the benefit (or the distraction) of title cards.

I got drawn into this one far more than into Crainquebille and, to be honest, got lost in the magic of it. By the time the end arrived, which seemed far too soon even though the film is nearly two hours long, I'd forgotten about all of that minor downside entirely. What amazed me most is that none of the three children had long careers in the film industry, stunning given their performances here. According to IMDb, this was Arlette Peyran's only film, and Pierrette Houyez only made three. Jean Forest, the star of this film, went on to appear in ten in all, but switched to a career in radio. What a shame!

10 / 10

Very powerful, feels like a new film

Just saw the film with live music in Helsinki. It's amazing how he was able to make such a film over 80 years ago (it was shot 1922). And, unlike many other soundless films, it was not at all over-acted. Plus the children were unbelievable! They make films today with a thousand cameras and months for editing it and this one is more powerful than many those of our time. Wow.

I just wonder how long time did they have for shooting the film.

What can I say, whosoever has the chance to see it, highly recommended!

9 / 10

The children are watching us.

Perhaps I am wrong but it seems to me that having once been counted among the great quintet of 'classic' French film directors, the reputation of Jacques Feyder has dwindled somewhat. This might be due in part to the fact that only one of his films is readily available, the miraculous 'La Kermesse Heroique'. Happily 'Visages d'enfants' which apparently flopped at the box office, has been wonderfully restored and gives us the chance to see the incredible images captured by one of the finest cinematographers of them all, Leonce-Henri Burel. Both Feyder and his wife Francoise Rosay had a hand in the writing. The film is aptly named as the faces of the child actors are magnificent. Their performances show a maturity way beyond their years. As far as I am aware Pierette Houyez made only four films and Arlette Peyran none but this. As for Jean Forest he was a truly amazing find, having been cast by Feyder as the newsboy in 'Crainquebille' in 1922. He did not alas make a successful 'transition' and made his last film at the age of twenty-three before going into radio. Such a pity as he possessed a natural sensibility that cannot be acquired. This is a tender, heartfelt and beautiful film that leaves a deep impression.