Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Passion of Joan of Arc

La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc; silent drama, France, 1928; D: Carl Theodor Dreyer, S: Renée Jeanne Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Maurice Schutz

In 1431, Joan of Arc is interrogated in prison by judges and clergy for her role in saving France from Greater England in the Hundred Years' War. Joan insists that she was chosen by God to lead the French, which causes several contentious protests from the judges. After being subject to torture, Joan is coerced into signing a statement in which she renounces all of her statements and admits guilt. However, in the last moment, she withdraws her confession and again insists that she was following God. She is sentenced to death by burning at the stake, and this causes mass unrest by the people against the authority.

Often acknowledged as one of the classics of the 20s and the silent movie era in general, Carl Theodor Dreyer's film - sometimes credited as being a prototype for the first court drama in cinema - is a visual case study on the mentality, motivation, beliefs and integrity of Joan of Arc, as well as her influence in history, and rightfully received widespread critical acclaim: restricting the story to only one day, which plays out almost exclusively only around the heroine being interrogated by the judges and the clergy in prison, Dreyer narrowed down his choices, but still rose to the occasion thanks to an exquisite visual style (long camera drives; huge, almost grotesque close ups of the judges' faces; unusual camera angles, such as tilting the camera until is is upside down while it follows people entering the castle; the shadow of a window on the floor which looks like the cross or the shot of people swinging a man reflected on the surface of a lake, until it is 'interrupted' by his splash into it), a devoted, compassionate narrative as well as an expressionistic performance by Renee Jeanne Falconetti, in her only film role. The only flaw is the slightly overlong, lax final act, and possibly the curiosity to learn more about Joan of Arc than just one day, yet the offered events have already enough power, accumulated either in long dialogues ("How do you know a difference between a good and a bad angel?"; "When will you stop wearing men's clothes?" - "When the mission that God has entrusted to me is over, I will again dress as a woman"; "You claim that I am sent by the devil. It's not true. To make me suffer, the devil has sent you!") or through director's intervention (Joan's close ups are separated from those of the judges, thereby indicating her 'seperate' state from them).


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