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09 April 2012

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) [Silent Film-a-thon 2] 5#



Directed By: Carl Dreyer


Genre: Drama, Biography

France 

Black and White, 82 Minutes (restored)





Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc today is revered for its filmmaking technique and emotion conveyed. When watching the film, it is easy to see why. Joan of Arc is still today a figure of female independence and an icon to women and France. In the film, we have a compelling and emotionally effective performance from an actress who would never make another film again. Dreyer’s slow pace and constant use of close-ups of Joan crying seem quite repetitive, but certainly, this is a standpoint of silent filmmaking.


Joan of Arc today is still a figure of female independence and bravery to women and even France. Joan of Arc, who died for her country at the adolescent age of 19, is a well-known figure who should be remembered well as the leader of the French army in the early 1400’s who was put on trial for heresy. Read more on her here. 



The strong point of the film is the emotional resonance it holds. The plot is simple, the story progresses slowly and it certainly does not travel very far, but it manages to hold the audience. The film flies by as we see Joan throughout her trial, and those familiar with the trial know how the story will end. Regardless of that, it still manages to hold you with the humanity of its emotion. Here we have a young, innocent and courageous young woman being controlled by men of England. Knowing there is no way out for her, the film creates the upmost sympathy- especially when the tears start coming. In addition, the emotion is very accessible. All you need to know is Joan was a woman who led an army in the 1400’s, and dies for her country; No need to be a history expert to find the emotion engaging.

What truly reinforces the emotion is the musical track of the restored edition entitled Voices of Light, by Richard Einhorn. The soundtrack definitely makes the film a whole lot more immersible and hearing the choir is enchantingly intense.  

Maria Falconetti’s performance was breath taking, sympathetic and truly harrowing to see with the amount of emotion it boasted. As great a silent actress as she was, she never appeared in another film.
Many claim it to be a masterpiece, but what I think holds it back from this is its insistent use of close-ups of Joan crying, which in total takes up at least 15 minutes of screen time. Of course, it is understandable to see why she would be crying, but we constantly saw it. However, it was quite effective. Seeing her cry with those big eyes, her young and innocent character is certainly moving to watch.

One of the film's most powerful images.
I cannot leave without mentioning the film’s religious standpoint. The film has a great deal to do with faith, and Joan’s faith in salvation in the afterlife as she sacrifices herself for her country, claiming she is the daughter of God. The men trialling her find this blasphemous and it is where we see the dominant hatred towards her in close-up shots showing their ferociousness (which creates plenty of sympathy). I am not religious in the slightest, and this film does not rely on it to create emotion and engage its audience. At the time, it was quite controversial for this, but today, now that religion is very loose, it remains an engaging film on a humanity side. 

An interesting thing to note is how the film was found after everyone thought it was lost forever. Dreyer himself attempted to reassemble a version from outtakes and surviving prints, but he died believing his original cut was lost forever. In one of the most important discoveries in cinema history, a virtually complete print of Dreyer's original version was found in 1981 in a janitor's closet of an Oslo mental institution. This version is now available on DVD and it is great that it has been accessible for modern audiences.

The cinematography of the film is beautiful. While we do not have fancy interiors or set designs, we have effective lighting and excellent camera work, which the film is quite known for. Overall, the film looks visually beautiful. From the opening scenes were we see Joan and her great big teary eyes to the film’s highly memorable finale, it stands the test of time as visually pleasing. Furthermore, the film also has some beautiful shots that are symbolic and metaphorical. One shot we see the ground and a shadow of a window, which forms a cross, which was shot very nicely.

Verdict:  The film remains emotionally effective for today’s modern audiences that shows a tragedy through innovative filmmaking techniques, and will remain an accessible classic for years to come.

Rating: 8.5/10

IMDB Rating: 8.3

4 comments:

  1. Good review. I'm not religious either and I consider this the best silent film drama ever made.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I might like to see this one. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Patrick McDonnell30 June 2012 at 14:10

    Nice review. I loved this film myself. I think the entire drama of the story is right there in Joan's face. While for most film's I would hate the number and length of the close-ups, all of the turmoil of the tale is right there in her eyes. Classic film and great post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for reading. I agree with what you say. Her face says turmoil all over it.

    ReplyDelete

 

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