Finis Terrae. 1929. France. Directed by Jean Epstein. DCP. Silent with French intertitles; English subtitles. 81 min.
Filmmaker, poet, and theorist Jean Epstein made several films merging narrative and nonfiction on the western coast of Brittany. Coming on the heels of his adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), Finis Terrae (Latin for “the end of the earth”) was the first of Epstein’s semi-documentaries to be filmed in the region. Working with nonprofessional actors, Epstein made a compact silent drama that follows a quarrel among a group of kelp harvesters on the island of Bannec. In the impressionistic style of the filmmaker’s avant-garde period, the seaside landscape feels pre-modern, defined by its sublime vastness. Epstein wrote of Finis Terrae, “In this place and people is resumed the mystery of men dedicated to land that is but rock, to a sea which is but foam, to a hard and perilous trade, thus bowing to some high command.”