Saturday, December 11, 2010

#215 La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc [The Passion of Joan of Arc] (1928)


Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Cast: Renée Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, André Berley, Maurice Schutz, Atonin Artaud, Michel Simon, Jean d'Yd, Louis Ravet, Armand Lurville, Jacques Arnna

Passion of Joan of Arc is said to be the greatest of all Joan of Arc films, and perhaps even one of the greatest silent films of all time. On both of these claims, I have little to compare it to within my own experience, but I don't find it hard to imagine it all being true.

Filmed in France in 1928, just eight years after Joan of Arc was canonized, the film is a spectacular nonfiction (albeit highly abbreviated) account of the trials of Joan of Arcs, derived from official court documents. The film is indeed a bizarre affair, using almost no film-maker tricks to help with continuity– ie., no match-on-action, no eyesight leads, no camera angle consistencies. The jumping, motion-happy shots seem to land in dramatic angle after dramatic angle, typically far below the subject's line of vision. Joan is often viewed from below, towering over the camera with her eyes always wide and lifted as if only addressing God.

As with so many other martyr films (forgive me but only Passion of the Christ is really coming to mind at the moment), we are flung into whirls of violence and empathy. We are often asked to place ourselves into the martyr's shoes. We are asked to imagine making such a sacrifice. And often in these movie-going experiences, we are consoled by an omniscient feeling that we know more or understand our matyr better than the torturers and executioners. In this film, however, we are not given that comfort. We are not asked to identify. In fact, to the end, Joan remains a mystery. Perhaps this was artistic intent, or perhaps the director himself had not quite made up his mind about her either.

While I would say this certainly isn't one of the easiest films to get through, it is surprisingly easy to follow despite my lack of knowledge to the real historical significance of the real Joan of Arc. An obviously significant film that I am happy to have seen and look forward to learning more about.

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