Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Written, edited, and directed by Carl Theodor Dryer that is inspired by Joseph Delteil‘s book, La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) is the story of Joan of Arc’s capture by the English as she’s put onto trial where she tries to defend herself against the English. The film is an exploration into Joan of Arc’s life and her defiance against those as she claims about doing God’s will. Starring Renee Jeanne Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Andre Berley, and Maurice Schutz. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is an astonishing yet riveting film from Carl Theodor Dreyer.

The film is essentially a dramatic interpretation of Joan of Arc’s trial where she is being persecuted by the English over witchcraft and heresy. During this trial, judges and priests try to get Joan to sign a false confession in order to save her life as they even try to manipulate her. Joan continually defies the English claiming she’s just doing what God is asking her to do. Yet, she does eventually sign her confession only to recant everything she had said feeling she’s just doing wrong out of fear as she gains the courage to face her death. It’s a story that is told with a lot of simplicity as it is based largely on transcripts on what had happened at the trial.

While there isn’t much plot to the film as it largely takes place in a courtroom, it is all about Joan of Arc’s defiance against the English who are accusing her and doing whatever to break her. What is most compelling about the story is Joan’s devotion to God as she is just stating what she believes in as she is continually being questioned by bishops and treated with cruelty by guards. To the people outside of the courtroom, they see Joan as a saint and what happens to her inspires a passionate response. Even those at the trial such as a young priest realized what was done was unjustified.

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s direction is very engaging for the way he frames the film as well as the close-ups he creates to express the heightened emotions of the film. Notably with Joan of Arc who is always looking up in the air as she is trying to communicate with God waiting for an answer from him. Dreyer’s camera work is very entrancing in the way he frames everything as he always have the camera looking up at the bishops while keeping things straight for Joan of Arc. There’s also some stylish shots from above or under to display the kind of chaos that occurs with the crowd as they watch Joan of Arc accept her fate. Dreyer also creates some unique imagery to emphasize the idea of faith as it’s the one thing Joan of Arc is clinging to. Through some effective yet rhythmic cutting, Dreyer keeps things intense as well as methodical to see how far these men will break. Overall, Dreyer creates a truly mesmerizing portrait about Joan of Arc and how she defied those who questioned her faith.

Cinematographer Rudolph Mate does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to maintain lots of coverage for the film‘s intimate framing as well as utilizing lighting schemes to display the authority figures. Art director Herrmann Warm does amazing work with the sets from the courtroom to the scenes outside of the castle. The costumes of Valentin Hugo is wonderful for the period that is created from the robes the bishops and priests wear to the ragged clothes of Joan. For the film’s mid-1990s reissue, composer Richard Einhorn creates a sprawling oratorio that plays to the emotions and drama that is played out in the film as it’s definitely a highlight of the film.

The film’s superb cast includes some notable performances from Michel Simon as a judge, Maurice Schutz and Andre Berley as a couple of bishops involved in the trial, and Eugene Silvain as the lead bishop Pierre Chaucon. Finally, there’s Renee Jeanne Falconetti in the role of Joan of Arc where Falconetti gives a truly unforgettable performance as this young woman trying to hold on to her faith as she is being pushed around by many people in order to break her as it’s definitely a performance for the ages.

La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is a magnificent film from Carl Theodor Dreyer about the trial and death of Joan of Arc. Featuring a captivating performance from Renee Jeanne Falconetti as well as dazzling images, it is truly one of the great films of the silent film era as well as one of the definitive films about Joan of Arc. For those new to Dreyer, this film is definitely the best place to start. In the end, La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is an incredible film from Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Carl Theodor Dreyer Films: (The President) - (The Parson’s Widow) - Leaves from Satan's Book - (Love One Another) - (Once Upon a Time) - (Michael (1924 film)) - Master of the House - (Bride of Glomdal) - Vampyr - Day of Wrath - (Two People) - Ordet - Gertrud

© thevoid99 2012

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