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JEAN EPSTEIN

France

Born: Warsaw, Poland, 25 March 1897.
Died: Paris, France, 3 April 1953.




French director and theoretician. Epstein moved to Paris in 1921, after studies in Switzerland and Lyons. Like his contemporary Louis Delluc he was first a film theoretician, publishing several books (including Bonjour cinéma, 1921); he became a prominent director of the French avant-garde. Although best known for his experimental films, such as La Chute de la maison Usher / The Fall of the House of Usher, Epstein was also interested in realism—his first film was a documentary on Pasteur (1922). For Pathé, he made three fiction films which combine melodramatic narratives with formal concerns: L'Auberge rouge, Coeur fidèle (both 1923) and La Belle Nivernaise (1924). Coeur fidèle, described as a "symbolic melodrama," is the most original, with fast editing and unusual use of close-ups. After a spell at the Russian émigré studio Albatros, where he made popular films, Epstein ran his own production company (1926-30), giving free rein to his formal preoccupations. In its complex narrative structure La Glace à trois faces (1927) anticipates Alain Resnais. It was one of the earliest films made for the new "art" cinema circuit, and is considered the culmination of the French narrative avant-garde. La Chute de la Maison Usher, which employs slow motion, illustrated Epstein's theories of time in the cinema. On the other hand Finis terrae (1929), filmed on a remote Brittany island, anticipated neo-realism and inaugurated Epstein's "Breton cycle." His career in the 1930s and 1940s was difficult, alternating commercial features and documentaries.

— Ginette Vincendeau, Encyclopedia of European Cinema



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