Saturday, January 14, 2012

Les Visages d'Enfants: A Fine French Family Movie from the 1920s

On Turner Classic Movies Silent Sunday Nights last week, I saw Les Visages d'Enfants (The Faces of Children). I like this movie very much, partly because it is about a family's life in a village whose daily life is permeated with a deep Catholic faith and because the story is portrayed without a hint of the usual movie concupiscence (or condescension for that matter).

This article has photos from the movie. In it, the reviewer says correctly that the movie is about "the wildness, and the meanness, that children are capable of." But this fine French film is about much more than that.

For one good thing, this story of events in the life of a Swiss family is presented without the kind of elaborate overacting and melodrama you find in American silent films of the same era, which is in itself enough to recommend it.

It would be a great movie for a family to see together, once you adjust your expectations to the slower pace of a silent film. The suspense is masterfully generated. And the emotions are portrayed movingly mostly through the actors' faces, especially the faces of the children (a good thing for a movie whose title is Visages d'Enfants, I might add).

One film critic said that it was the one French movie of the 1920s that he would recommend for everyone to see.

Warning: Spoilers follow
Some things about the movie that stay with me are how kind the village priest was to his godson after the boy's mother's death, how he took the distraught boy along on his yearly visit with an old friend for a few weeks to prepare the boy for his father's remarriage. A scene of the two priest friends playing a game together shows them to be charming and innocent in their amusements in their spare time.

I also admire the way the boy is portrayed as devastated by his mother's loss.
At the start of the movie, the removal of the boy's mother's coffin from his home and the procession to the graveyard are frequently shot from the boy's point of view, so we experience right along with him a dolorous combination of grief, dismay, confusion, and vertigo, until he falls to the ground in a dead faint.

Here is a short clip from the beginning of the funeral.

The drama heightens when after his father's remarriage, the boy becomes progressively so nasty to his stepsister that he finally almost causes her death.

Some other aspects of faith-filled life in the village are well shown when the family and women neighbors pray together with the priest for God's help while the stepsister is lost. Meanwhile, while the village men start a search, the lost girl herself prays in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin in a small chapel where she had been able to find refuge from the avalanche not a moment too soon.

After a search in the mountains, the men finally discover the chapel engulfed in snow up to the cross on its rooftop. They frantically dig through the snow, pry up some roof beams, and the father looks down to find his stepdaughter sleeping, seemingly under the protection of Our Lady, in front of Her altar.

In a suspenseful climax, the boy apologizes and kisses his stepsister and then almost kills himself from shame. The movie goes on to show how he comes to be redeemed and to love and trust the woman who took his mother's place in his home.

This You Tube clip shows some of what followed.

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