The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

In the year 1431 Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti) is put on trial for heresy. The church attempts to have Joan recant her claims that she has had holy visions from God.

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Cast: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Andre Berley, Maurice Schutz, Antonin Artaud

MPAA Rating: N/A

Run Time: 1hr 22min

Fun Fact: Maria Falconetti’s second and final film role. She preferred being on the theatre stage over taking on film roles.

Classic films have always been my jam ever since I got into movies. To me there is just something fascinating about how film progressed from its beginnings to this day in age. Especially the silent era which I have been having a pull to the last few years. I just recently started following an Instagram page called Tarana Cinema that focuses on film history and the page had a tournament of classic films from a certain period. The Passion of Joan of Arc won the tournament via follower vote. I had never seen the film or heard of it before until following the page, so I knew I had to see it. Thanks to HBO Max I was able to view it.

Everyone has had those times and moments when they watch a film that afterwards all they can do is just think about what they have seen. This film is one of the many that I had that experience with. When it was over all I said out loud was incredible. After that I let it all soak in though the night.

Director Carl Theodor Dreyer took actual trial accounts from the Joan of Arc trials to present a film that was as historical as possible. It is amazing at how long those accounts survived to be able to do that. With the accounts as a guide, Dreyer takes us back to the trials and what a ride it is. Dreyer made key decisions that make the film stand out. One interesting decision was the use of no make-up. Silent era films relied heavily on make-up effects, but here it isn’t present. To me that makes the film more real in a way. To achieve this realness the use of lighting is very important. When the cameras focus on Joan it is soft lighting and it makes her stand out amongst the crowd. When it focuses on the prosecution it’s harsher and you can see more of a person’s facial features. If make up effects were used, then I think they wouldn’t have been able to use the lighting effects to the full advantage.

Two other key elements in the technical aspects of the film are the set pieces and the cinematography. We see some great set building that feels cold and vast, and it feels like we are in the time period. The costumes are well made, and they look authentic. The cinematography is one of the more interesting and unique aspects that I have ever seen in a film. The majority of the film is at a close up of peoples faces. This was to capture the emotion of a character right in focus. There are certain angles on characters that make them stand out or make them bigger. All those elements bring out the best part of the film. The one thing that makes this film the way it is and something legendary.

The performance of Maria Falconetti is one of the greatest I have ever seen. I have always said that Max Von Sydow had the greatest performance of all time in The Seventh Seal, but I may have a different opinion after seeing Falconetti. Falconetti has quite a bit of work to do and she pulls it off masterfully. Every single expression of emotion she makes is believable and since mostly the camera is focused on her face, we see everything play out. She portrays Joan of Arc as someone defiant and strong in what she believes in. There is one scene that really stuck with me and that was when she stood up to her prosecutors and said something that they didn’t see coming. I can’t spoil it because it is a must see. There are reports that Dreyer was harsh on Falconetti like making her be on her knees on the concrete to get into character. While those methods might not be the best in a workplace it sure got the best performance though.

As for the music track there have been many made through the time the film has been around. The one that was used on the version I saw was fantastic. It had a nice flow to it and was tense when it needed to be. I’m always a sucker for great film soundtracks and I would be interested in hearing the other ones as well.

Overall, The Passion of Joan of Arc is a masterpiece in film making. Everything that is important in a movie is done perfectly. The directing from Carl Theodor Dreyer is someone that had a vision and wanted to honor the legacy of Joan of Arc. Dreyer gives us a historically accurate as possible film from the set design that makes us feel like we are in the time period. The cinematography makes the characters emotions stand out even more by focusing on the characters faces to see it all play out. Last but not least is the legendary performance of Falconetti may be the greatest of all time. If you appreciate classic cinema or just are curious on what it is all about then I suggest that you see this film as soon as possible.

Verdict: Hit


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