Denmark’s Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 (The Passion Of Joan Of Arc), is much more than a documentary, its much more than a film, it’s a portrait, a study of suffering and fear, of a woman, of the people, of Christ, we witness what human beings are capable of, what power and the unknown does to people, it shows bullying at its worst, mass hysteria, being wrongly accused of something. I recently watched Thomas Vintenburg’s (The Hunt), which for me, had many similarities of what happens when a group of people stand together and accuse someone of an act that they have not committed, what happens when fear takes over. Dreyer and Vintenburg both seek the truth of the situation.
The Passion of Joan of Arc, is visually powerful it forces you to really watch, study and contemplate what you are witnessing. You can see the detailed thought process of each character. The continual use of extreme close-ups on the actors’ faces creates an intimacy which feels shameful in moments and fearful in others, we see the contemplation, doubt, anger, disgust, disbelief, torture and terror. What strikes me is just how truthful it is, moment to moment.
They shot the footage in six months, about the same time as the real trials, the verbal exchanges between Joan and her interlocutors were taken from the historical records of her trials and based on the actual transcripts the costumes and all the props were also based on 14th-centuary paintings and are also authentic. The chronological production schedule meant that a lot of the actors stayed true to their characters, the clarity and detail achieved is incredible.
Renee Maria Falconetti (Joan) performance will haunt you and stay with you forever, you see the fear, the pain, the sorrow, the exhaustion, the ecstasy, all beautifully contained in her eyes, and she is so brave in her work. It is reported that Dreyer made her kneel on cold stone for long periods and was completely pitiless when handling her; we see true sorrow in her face as her hair is cut from her head, something she did not want to have to go through for real but did.
The camera work is busy and almost feels photographical at times; it reminded me of when someone films a stage play.
I much preferred the silent version; the version with music is stunning but for me I found it distracting and also it seemed to direct how you should be feeling emotionally. Dreyer once said “When music really has meaning or an artistic intention, it will always be a plus for a film” This film is a must see for anyone that is passionate about film, history, religion and ultimately human behaviour.
JOAN OF ARC is released in the UK
on Blu-ray, DVD & Limited Edition Dual Format (DVD & Blu-ray) SteelBook
as part of Eureka Entertainment’s MASTERS OF CINEMA Series
26 November 2012