London-based Eureka offers the indispensable Masters of Cinema series, which is good news for cinephiles worldwide, including those with region-free players in the US. One of the newest releases is Jean Epstein’s 1923 silent masterpiece, Cœur fidèle (True Heart). Epstein, a film critic/theorist for the the early modernist journal, L’Espirit Nouveau, decided to make a simple story of love and violence about a barmaid, Marie (Gina Marès), oppressed by a cruel foster family, who finds her soul mate in Jean (Léon Mathot).
Epstein, who admired Abel Gance’s La Rouge, wanted “to win the confidence of those, still so numerous, who believe that only the lowest melodrama can interest the public,” while also creating “a melodrama so stripped of all the conventions ordinarily attached to the genre, so simple, that it might approach the nobility and excellence of tragedy.” In fact, he wrote the script in a single night.
With Coeur fidèle, Epstein experimented with Gance’s use of rapid, rhythmic editing along with his innovative use of close-ups and superimposed images. Indeed, the first-half is suffused with poetic realism, drawing us to Marie’s face and hands along with the table and glasses that she cleans. By contrast, the abstract images of the sea and the port are either intercut or superimposed to convey the yearnings of the lovers. It’s all about conveying a mood, as opposed to the second-half, which relies more conventional techniques of situation and action, as others have observed. The most celebrated sequence takes place at the fairground (particularly on the carousel), in which the rhythm defines the tension between Marie and the unscrupulous suitor.
The Eureka Blu-ray is stunning and captures the film’s hypnotic beauty. A precursor to F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (only available on Blu-ray from Eureka).