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aka - Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, La
France 1927
Directed by
Carl Dreyer
90 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc

Although a court trial would seem hardly to be ideal subject matter for a silent film Carl Dreyer’s spare style of film-making overcomes the limitations of lack of sound. Indeed Dreyer’s film is by far and away the best portrayal of Jeanne d’Arc yet made for he captures with great empathy the ordeal of the young peasant girl deeply devoted to her Catholic faith yet who had to suffer the brutality of the Church who saw her as a challenge to its authority and the English to whom she was a political threat, ultimately being burnt at the stake as a heretic in a heart-wrenching travesty of justice .

Basing his script, which he co-wrote with Joseph Delteil, on the original trial records Dreyer  gives no historical information and makes only limited use of title cards to fill us in on the most significant exchanges between Joan and her interlocutors.  For the most part he pans across grouping of figures, often using unusual camera angels and favouring close-ups of the faces of the self-satisfied clerics and judges, variously porcine or cruelly stony to contrast their authoritarianism and smugness with Joan’s wide-eyed tear-stained face as she struggles to maintain her belief in her divinely ordained mission.  Rudolph Maté’s stark black and white cinematography is a major contributor to the success of the film,

Maria Falconetti in what was effectively her own screen role was thirty-five at the time playing a nineteen year old virgin but  is remarkable in the role, making Joan’s suffering palpable (allegedly  Dreyer had her kneel on stone floors until her pain was unbearable and repeatedly re-shot scenes to get the expressions he wanted).  Little wonder that, particularly with her head crudely shaven she is the iconic face of one of the most famous of all martyrs




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