The Passion of Joan of Arc Screen 9 articles

The Passion of Joan of Arc

1928

The Passion of Joan of Arc Poster
  • Though [Falconetti's] is one of the key performances in the history of movies, she never made another film. Dreyer's radical approach to constructing space and the slow intensity of his mobile style make this a difficult film in the sense that, like all the greatest films, it reinvents the world from the ground up; it's also painful in a way that all of Dreyer's tragedies are. But it will continue to live long after all the commercial movies in town have vanished from memory.

  • Carl Dreyer directed one of the great performances of the cinema and in the process created one of its greatest icons. Maria (Renée) Falconetti is remarkable. On stage from the age of eighteen, she starred in her only film, at the age of thirty-five, playing a nineteen year old virgin. The strength of Falconetti’s performance is such that her name is listed in most standard encyclopedias of the cinema and her performance has inspired artists as diverse as Patti Smith and Jean-Luc Godard.

  • In Renée Falconetti's astounding performance—easily one of the most famous in world film—Joan's silences are even more captivating than her words. . . . The methods by which Dreyer elicited this remarkable turn, reputed to include depriving Falconetti of sleep, food, and physical comfort, are almost unjustifiable to some audiences, but together, actress and director create an aura of genuine torment intertwined with a tangible will to endure, to testify to the Highest authority.

  • The film is far from slow — though there are relatively few scenes, and they’re relatively long, Dreyer’s filming is dynamic in a way that prefigures today’s “intensified continuity” — faces pop up, loom in, are tracked into, making for a very impactful mise-en-scene indeed. Far from being a cinematic blind alley, Dreyer’s experiment was an early clue to the new direction.

  • This is a proudly silent movie, one that integrates the intertitle into its rhythm better and more comprehensively than any other example I can name. (Astonishingly, rather than interrupting the flow of Dreyer's breakneck montage, the titles actually serve as graphic punctuation.) It's also a perverse one—stripped down to essentials, focusing on faces even though Dreyer's investors paid for enormous and authentic sets barely glimpsed in the finished film.

  • Watched it (again) with the "Voices of Light" soundtrack on the Criterion DVD, and at some point I realised I was responding more to the music than I was to the movie. Tends to repeat its effects, and certainly repeats the central dynamic viz. that Joan is challenged on her devotion to the Church and deflects it by talking about her devotion to God. Didn't blow my mind, for some reason; still an experience, obviously.

  • A religious experience, and not just in a good way. Personally I was always bored in church—and there's no more point in complaining that there are too many close-ups of Falconetti than that a church service has too many hymns. You either believe or don't, and I believe in the power of close ups, of angelic faces contrasted with bestial ones, and the kineticism of a final montage. A very, yes, passionate masterpiece.

  • The intensity of Falconetti’s performance is all but unparalleled. (The only equivalent in silent cinema that comes to mind are Lillian Gish’s solo scenes in Victor Sjostrom’s 1928 melodrama “The Wind.”) Cast wildly against type (Falconetti had been known for light romantic roles), she embodies a spiritual anguish worthy of a medieval Pietà. Eyes widened and miraculously capable of dropping a single tear, her Joan is dazed yet resolute.

  • With almost every camera mounted on tracks, topsy-turvy pans that glide like guillotine blades, and a montage accelerated by a spinning torture wheel, Dreyer’s arsenal of visual abstractions . . . in large part places the movie on a continuum with Léger and Murphy’s landmark film, with Kirsanoff’s Ménilmontant (1926), and with the early masterpieces by Jean Epstein and Sergei Eisenstein. The Passion of Joan of Arc is, finally, a storm, an ordeal that relentlessly tests a martyr’s devotion.

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