The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer) Review
Starring: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Andre Berley
Expressive eyes, tense lips, closed mouth, and the stare that just looks ahead and farther away from the desolate mundanity to settle to the glorious chants of heaven, Maria Falconetti easily and without a doubt gives one of the best performances found in the era of silent film. The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the most influential French films of its time, and still continues to inspire today. It focuses on the last days of Joan of Arc’s life, and dives right into her trial immediately after being captured and accused of being a heretic.
Being banned in multiple countries as it was controversial during their time, this film is a strong testament on how far human nature can go, how humanity can easily shift towards “sides” depending on number. Likewise, this film is a spiritual experience that explores the idea of faith, and how much sacrifice one can put in just trying to protect or restore one’s beliefs. It doesn’t show Joan of Arc prior to her days at the trial. It doesn’t show her victories, her accomplishments, nor her success in leading the English out of France. Instead, it completely strips her to a character undergoing through a strong crisis as she goes through a questioning of fate that ultimately decides life or death.
I have seen the version with music in it (and am currently interested in viewing the completely silent one), and it is truly transcendent. Considering the fact that it was done way back in 1928 impressed me, and the metaphysical journey that this may bring to the viewerreligious or not, may take one to utmost beauty, even up to the brink of tears. Personally, the psychological power of the close-up made me sympathize much more with Joan, and the fact that Falconetti only acted once in her entire life is just stunning. Even without words, Falconetti is still able to display a performance of outright vulnerability while still being confident and at one with God.
As per usual with silent films, I still did have some problems with this, and these are more personal ones that I found affecting my entertainment value of the film. As great as this film was, I found this one to be a difficult watch not just because of it’s bleak subject matter, but also because of the way it was shot. I do understand the power of the close-up and I actually praised it a while earlier, but for me, using it for most of the film’s shots was a mistake. There were barely any background pans or shots to establish the character’s placement, so it’s quite difficult to follow the location of each, making it sometimes a burden to watch. The wooden transitions between each scene also made everything jarring and dizzying. It’s easy enough to forgive the film as it was almost made a hundred years ago, but I found myself occasionally distracted enough to pause the film, which isn’t a good thing.
In all, The Passion of Joan of Arc is easily commendable because of the technological advancement in film it made during that time, but the low rewatchability and abusive use of close-ups make this a difficult recommendation. Maria Falconetti’s passionate performance may still make this film worthwhile, and the influence that this had on preceding films stretches out over many generations, but basing this on entertainment value, this film doesn’t really hit the mark and, at times, feels outdated.