The Passion of Joan of Arc

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(1928, directed by Carl Th. Dreyer)

- inducted 2013 -

"One key to understanding the depths of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s achievement in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) is the realization that Dreyer doesn’t really have a set idea as to whether Joan, the peasant girl who led the French army to important victories in the Hundred Years’ War only to be burned at the stake by church officials for being a heretic, actually communed with God as she claims. That’s perhaps why Dreyer, at the beginning of his film, takes pains to emphasize that everything that he’s about to present to us is taken from the trial transcripts; on the dramatic level, he’s basically presenting us the facts of the case, in his belief that, by doing so, this will strip away the layers of sanctimonious religiosity and reveal the human beings underneath.

"But Dreyer isn’t just interested in the procedural elements (certainly not in the way Robert Bresson was when he tackled the same material in his 1962 film The Trial of Joan of Arc). Joan may or may not have been touched by God— the whole trial basically hinges on that question, after all— but how else to describe the cumulative transcendent effect of Dreyer’s luminous close-ups, his starry-eyed low-angle shots, his images of flying birds, and so on, as anything other than divinely inspired? Throughout, Dreyer uncannily manages that tricky feat of diving right inside Joan’s internal anguish while also standing outside of it; at times, that 1.33:1 frame feels like a prison in and of itself.

"Dreyer’s poetic images, however, might not have made quite the same impact without a great Joan leading the way—and in Renée Maria Falconetti, Dreyer found a performer of astonishing transparency who brings us right inside Joan’s thoughts and feelings moment-by-moment: her rapture at speaking about her relationship with God, her initial fear at the prospect of being burned at the stake, her weariness as the trial drags on. The end result of Falconetti’s burning conviction and Dreyer’s expressionistic visual style is a film that, more than any other film I can recall, illustrates not only the power of this one woman’s religious conviction, but the transcendental power of cinema to illuminate human experience."

~ Kenji Fujishima

Original title: La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc
Principal cast: Maria Falconetti, Eugène Silvain, André Berley, Maurice Schutz, Antonin Artaud, Michel Simon, Jean d’Yd, Ravet, André Lurville, Jacques Arnna, Alexandre Mihalesco, Léon Larive
Screenplay by Joseph Delteil and Carl Th. Dreyer
Director of photography: Rudolph Maté
Settings by Jean Hugo, Hermann Warm
Costume design by Valentine Hugo
Historical advisor: Pierre Champion
Film editing by Marguerite Beaugé and Carl Th. Dreyer (both uncredited)

Duration: 114 minutes
Languages: Silent with French intertitles
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Silent
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Produced by Société Générale des Films
Released in USA by Capitol Film Exchange
Premiered in Denmark on 21 April 1928
USA release date: 28 March 1929

Awards and honors:
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 16 February 1997