Film 13: The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer, France


To modern audiences, raised on films where emotion is conveyed by dialogue and action more than by faces, a film like “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is an unsettling experience–so intimate we fear we will discover more secrets than we desire. Our sympathy is engaged so powerfully with Joan that Dreyer’s visual methods–his angles, his cutting, his closeups–don’t play like stylistic choices, but like the fragments of Joan’s experience. Exhausted, starving, cold, in constant fear, only 19 when she died, she lives in a nightmare where the faces of her tormentors rise up like spectral demons.

Perhaps the secret of Dreyer’s success is that he asked himself, “What is this story really about?” And after he answered that question he made a movie about absolutely nothing else.

— Roger Ebert


Abigail:  Wow.  This film is stunningly awesome.  It honestly could have been made a year ago, and I would still be really impressed.  It has all the makings of a modern awards film – strong POV, dramatic and effective camera work, and brilliant award worthy performances.  I was most excited because it leads a woman, who has a problem unrelated to love/marriage that she faces with dignity and grace, never saved by a man.  It is also heartening to read every piece of criticism that gives Falconetti the unreserved praise she deserves for carrying such a daring film in just her eyes (even if a lot of them split that credit with Dreyer). I feel like I am going to have to cherish the very few Great Films that receive that moniker AND have strong female leads.  I am assuming it will be a few decades in our docket before we get another.  And I think it will be a few decades in our world before stories about the every-woman are taken as seriously as movies about the every-man.

Forrest: This movie is incredible. It’s beautiful, haunting, and stunningly made. The images sear themselves into your brain. Maria Falconetti, in her only film role, delivers a performance for the ages. Her eyes are a special effect. Dreyer’s stark sets and harsh lighting create a universe all its own, and his use of unmatched cuts accentuates the horror and unreason of the trial. Because of this isolated universe, there is nothing in this film that feels dated. It could have been made yesterday. It’s completely — I almost said modern, but that’s not right: timeless is better.  And the image of a lone woman persecuted — and disbelieved — by a room full of men is alarmingly timely. This movie is brilliant. See it.

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