The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
October 19, 2015 4:02 PM - Subscribe

Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent film was based on the actual record of the heresy trial of Jeanne d'Arc and the efforts of ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions. Featuring a breathtaking performance from Renée Jeanne Falconetti, it's widely regarded as a landmark of cinema.

Part of the Criterion on Hulu film club.

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posted by Ian A.T. (9 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
God, I could watch this all day long just for the photography and design alone. It still looks so modern.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:39 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is my favorite film of all time. I mean, look at my name.

I first saw it about 20 years ago and I still see Renee Maria Falconetti's face in my dreams - haunted, serene, full of grace.

I don't think I can say much about this film that hasn't already been said a million times - the discordant interiors evoking German Expressionism, the disorienting use of medium and close-up shots, etc.

Paul Schrader grouped Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer together under the rubric of Transcendental Filmmakers and I think that is very perceptive (Bresson also made a film about Joan of Arc). I think Lynne Ramsey's work, especially Ratcatcher, has a lot in common with this "style."
posted by Falconetti at 12:56 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just stopping by to say that you can't go wrong by spending time with Dreyer's films. Ordet and Gertrud are two of my other Dreyer faves ... and then of course there's Vampyr, whose eerie focus on faces will look familiar to fans of Passion.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:22 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really struggled to connect with this movie, the glacial pace and seemingly endless takes of Joan staring solemnly into the distance just didn't work for me. Then again, it came from a one-two punch of following Andrei Rublev, which isn't exactly Fast and Furious Five.

I dunno, more of a Murnau man, myself.
posted by smoke at 6:35 PM on October 20, 2015

I saw this last year* and was blown away by it. I could just stare at Falconetti's face for hours. Was this one of the first films to use close-ups so aggressively?

* this club has been tracking my personal viewing list with about a six month lag.
posted by octothorpe at 8:17 AM on October 21, 2015

This is one of those movies where you could pause it at almost any moment, print out the screenshot, and hang it on your wall. Every shot is carefully composed, and for something so spare, it's incredibly complex, with the light and shadow, the camera angles and movements, and the actors' (especially Falconetti's) expressions all perfectly choreographed. There's one scene where a fly lands on her and she brushes it off in the middle of a pivotal scene, and there's something I really like about that, for some reason. Dreyer did not train that fly to land on her. It's just this little external thing that found its way in and she rolled with it and stayed in character and kept going on. I have no idea why I think that's so cool. Maybe it's just that little bit of added realism.

I had forgotten just how wrenching the burning scene is, too. Dreyer does not gloss over that part. He really makes you watch it.

And this is (our) Falconetti's fault for bringing up Bresson: It's really interesting to contrast this with Bresson's Trial of Joan of Arc. It's based on the same source material--the trial transcripts--and it has many of the same elements like the crisp black and white and the spare, austere settings, but it's a very different perspective. I guess at the time, the acting in this movie was considered understated, because it was compared to the melodramatic styles that were still fairly common at the time. But Bresson steps up the understated game. His Joan is stoic and unflappable, and Bresson doesn't do close-ups (of faces, anyways), so his treatment of the exact same story is a really potent illustration of just what auteur cinema is. How two movies with so many commonalities can be so different depending on whose perspective it's coming from.

I love both versions, but I have a really big thing for Bresson. It would probably be a pretty major letdown watching it right after watching Dreyer's unless you also have the same kind of thing I do, so I'm not recommending doing that. I'm probably going to, though.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:30 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

A small bit of trivia about the photography...Newly-developed panchromatic film (which allows for a much wider range of grays, compared to earlier b/w film) was used for the photography, which allowed for greater detail and more "natural" skin tonalities. And no makeup was used on the actors.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:07 AM on October 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm using the holiday break to catch up on some Criterion films I missed during my move. I've been sick all vacation, though, so you'll forgive me for resorting to bullet points, I hope...
  • More like The Mansplain Of Joan Of Arc, am I right?
  • So I watched this as, apparently, the director intended: with no musical accompaniment at all. I found it really distracting, in a way I can't put my finger on. When we watched Pandora's Box, I mentioned that it was so late in the silent era that it didn't feel like a silent, it felt distractingly like a talkie with the sound turned down. Maybe something like that is going on here. Or maybe I'm just a hyperactive sugar-addled simpleton!
  • Actually, I found it odd it was filmed as a silent film at all. For a silent film, there was A LOT of talking in this movie! Most silent films only give you title cards when you wouldn't otherwise get the gist of what's being said, but this film reproduced entire conversations. They had to know that talkies were coming relatively soon, right? (I admit this is a pretty shitty line of reasoning; that is, maybe Dryer didn't want to make a non-silent version of this movie. Also, what artist has ever had the opportunity to make something and turned it down until the technology was there?)
  • I was intrigued by how frail, even stricken, Jane was portrayed as being. It was an interesting angle, considering that we're hearing about how this person just lead a great army. Also, they weren't afraid to make her seem...hmm, not entirely a model of good mental well-being. She wasn't necessarily crazy, but there were scenes where she was definitely crazed. With good reason, I hasten to add, but it's still an interesting route for a literal hagiography. (Joan had been canonized in 1908.)
  • Smoke mentions "seemingly endless takes of Joan staring solemnly into the distance," and it's funny: when you see the DVD cover or the section of Story Of Film about this movie, you're mesmerized by Falconetti and that one great shot. Then you actually watch the film and realize that "one great shot" is about 45% of the running time...
Well, as usual, all my comments are flippant or negative and I seem like a great contrarian shitheel, when in fact I really enjoyed the movie, I'm really glad I watched it, and have put it on in the background numerous times since I watched it.
posted by Ian A.T. at 2:30 AM on January 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I finally watched this one. Part of it anyway. I lasted about 10 minutes of the trial itself. Questions and answers don't work very well silent and title-carded then subtitled. So I skipped ahead to the end. Then decided I didn't actually want to watch the end when the smoke started wafting up and tears started streaming down Falconetti's face.

I was struck by how modern it all looked, especially the camera movements. That tracking shot past the row of priests at the very beginning looked like it could have been in any movie made in 2015. So even if the story didn't thrill me, I was blown away by the 15 minutes of this movie I did see.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:08 PM on February 4, 2016

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