The Passion of Joan of Arc (Day 35)

The Passion of Joan of ArcMy Opinion: 8.0 || Not perfect, but nevertheless astonishing. The last third is particularly impressive, with a succession of brilliantly crafted images: easily among the best directed sequences I’ve ever seen. Thre are some shortcomings. Dryer’s artistic vision is vivid but also narrow. Most frustrating is that Joan’s intellect is nowhere to be seen. What we have is a pure passion play, in which Joan exists solely to suffer. The suffering is unforgettable, no doubt. The pity is that Dryer’s puts his energy exclusively into painting her martyrdom, with no attention to the agile genius that produced it.

TITLE: The Passion of Joan of Arc (La passion de Jeanne d’Arc)
DIRECTOR: Carl Theodor Dreyer
LANGUAGE: Silent | COUNTRY: France
YEAR: 1928
PROFILE: Historical Drama | 110 minutes | IMDb 8.2

SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): A chronicle of the trial of Jeanne d’Arc on charges of heresy, and the efforts of her ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.

Passion of Joan of Arc

Strengths: Exquisite imagery. The photography itself is amazing — I can think of many otherwise good films shot decades later don’t look as gorgeous or detailed as this one. Dreyer does great things with angles in the early courtroom scenes, and his visual creativity expands when Joan enters the torture room. Then comes the long execution sequence, which has to be one of the most visually arresting and emotionally intense passages ever filmed.

Weaknesses: We have a panel of the brightest theologians in France interrogating an illiterate 19 year old girl — and she outwits them. That’s a great, great story. Dreyer alludes to her accomplishment in the prelude but then ignores that aspect of the story. Renée Jeanne Falconetti gives a mesmerizing performance. But it would have been nice to watch her do something other than stare with anguished eyes and weep.

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I know that sounds flippant, but it’s a serious criticism. We get Joan’s holiness but not her intelligence, and it’s hard to reconcile this Joan, who’s frankly a wreck, with the teenager who led an army. It’s a great film, but as a biographical portrait it’s disappointingly limited.

Characters/Performances: My critique of Falconetti’s depiction of Joan applies much more to Dryer’s constrained vision than to her performance. Her emotional directness is devastating. Film acting at the highest level.

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Best Moment: My advice to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie and doesn’t want to invest in watching the whole thing (though you should — it’s not that long): get a copy of the Criterion edition and watch the execution sequence. I can’t think of a better passage in any movie.

However, I will offer one quibble, which is that Dryer makes a (small) mistake by devoting the last couple minutes of the film to a peasant riot. It’s well filmed (like everything else) but slightly anticlimactic. It would have ben more powerful to conclude with the terrible beauty of Joan’s final moments.

File Under: religion, courtroom drama, torture, courage, great images, great performance

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