The Passion of Joan of Arc (French: La Passion De Jeanne d’Arc is a silent film produced in France in 1928. The film director of the film is Carl Theodor Dreyer and stars Renée Jeanne Falconetti, whose performance is regarded as one of the best for a silent film. The film is regarded as a landmark of cinema because of its production, Falconetti’s masterful performance and Dreyer’s innovative direction.
Carl Theodor Dreyer, the director of the film threw the screenplay of the film and went researching on Joan for one and a half years. He based much of the film on the original transcript of the execution and trial of Joan. He actually condensed 29 interrogations over the course of 18 months into 1 scene.
The Passion of Joan of Arc is probably one of the most iconic films of the silent film era. Those who want to dwell into the heart of silent films would inevitably have to watch this film. Renee Jeanne Falconetti’s performance is just remarkable. The film was rated 26th in Premiere Magazine‘s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (The highest ranking silent film on the list.)
Pauline Kael wrote that her portrayal “may be the finest performance ever recorded on film.”
Joan of Arc ( The maid of Orleans) has become a mystifying figure in world culture, particularly in France where she was beatified 1909 and canonized in 1920. She was also adopted as one of the patron saints of France. This brought the attention of the public-at-large to the events and actions involving her. Also, as she was known as a military hero, People were using Joan as way to stir people to go to war in France during World War 1 especially after the Germans bombed Reims Cathedral.
However, instead of framing Joan as a Hero, Dreyer decided to go the complete opposite where he portrayed Joan in her weakest period- trial and torture.
The film was made at the height of German Expressionism and the French avant-garde movement in art and thus might explain why Dreyer chose to portray Joan as such. Also, it would explain some of the aesthetics in the film.
Lets talk about Aesthetics
Dreyer used angle of framing as a way to show dominance and power left quite an impression on me, what more in the 1920’s, where it was less commonly seen. An example of angle of framing being varied is during the interrogation scene, when the shot is on the priest, the camera is positioned low.
This also shows how powerless Joan is. She always has to look up to her interrogators showing that they are higher than her. It also shows that Joan is always looked down upon.
Lightings varied with the people. Officials, interrogators and priest were shot in high contrast as compared to Joan. The mixture of bright light and absence of make-up meant that the imperfections such as warts and crevices would show up clearly. Dreyer used this to create a bad vibe for the priests and possibly showed how evil and selfish they were inside.
Dreyer’s made his actors perform with natural realism in contrast to the cliché-ridden embodiment of types seen in most films of that era. Dreyer was quoted as saying, “ In all art, human beings are the decisive thing. It is people that we want to see and it is their adventures of the spirit that we want to follow.” (1) He ensured that in all his films, the character is not just mere symbolism. They do not just represent particular attitudes and values. They represent themselves. Look at the expressions given by Joan below.
For Falconetti, the performance was an ordeal. Legends from the set tell of Dreyer forcing her to kneel painfully on stone and then wipe all expression from her face—so that the viewer would read suppressed or inner pain. He filmed the same shots again and again, hoping that in the editing room he could find exactly the right nuance in her facial expression. – Roger Ebert
There were over 1500 cuts in the film. In the past and even today, Close ups are usually used to show significant moments of drama. Dreyer ignored this used a shedload of close up shots that made it difficult to tell where the characters are in relation to one another. The set with its bare white walls did not do much to help. The plus side of these constant close ups was that it allowed the audience to feel like they are being questioned and interrogated. The audiences are really put into the shoes of Joan, experiencing what she experiences, almost like a first persons point of view. Notice the amount of Close up’s in the scene below.
The set costs a staggering 9 million francs making it one of the most expensive sets in the history of france.
The set itself is just unbelievable. The way Dreyer is able to use the set to tell the story is in genius. As quoted by Paul Schrader, “the architecture of Joan’s world, which literally conspires against her; like the faces of her inquisitors, the halls, doorways, furniture are on the offensive, striking, swooping at her with oblique angles, attacking her with hard-edged chunks of black and white.” Some examples are:
I am utterly shocked however that after spending so much money on the set, very little of it is shown in the film. – he must have a very understanding producer.
Also, did you know that the blood scene is actually from a real person? One of the Production assistants offered his vein for the shot, as there was no one else to do it. He deserves a raise
Wayne is an aspiring actor and film maker that goes miles just to see people smile. He thinks he has a sense of humor and is single and ready to mingle. Also, he thinks that Mr Tan should have let him review Red Dragonfly
Dessem, M. 2006. The Criterion Contraption: #62: The Passion of Joan of Arc. [online] Available at: http://criterioncollection.blogspot.sg/2006/11/62-passion-of-joan-of-arc.html [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
Roger Ebert.com. 1997. The Passion of Joan of Arc Movie Review (1928) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-passion-of-joan-of-arc-1928 [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
Senses of Cinema. 2006. Senses of Cinema – Realised Mysticism: La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. [online] Available at: http://sensesofcinema.com/2006/cteq/passion_jeanne_arc/ [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
The Criterion Collection. 1999. Realized Mysticism in The Passion of Joan of Arc. [online] Available at: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/69-realized-mysticism-in-the-passion-of-joan-of-arc [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
Turner Classic Movies. n.d.. The Passion of Joan of Arc. [online] Available at: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/81387%7C0/The-Passion-of-Joan-of-Arc.html [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
Dreyer quoted in Donald Skoller (ed.) Dreyer In Double Reflection: Translation of Carl Th. Dreyer’s Writings About the Film, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1973, p. 134. (1)