In which I attempt to watch every film in The Criterion Collection and end up watching a lot that aren't. Click here for the rating system.


The Passion of Joan of Arc

"The Inescapable Camera." ▲ ♪

I hope I won't spoil it by telling you that this film ends badly for Joan. Maria Falconetti, aided by the relentless camera of Carl Th. Dreyer, creates one of the most revered performances of cinema history. And the only film role she would ever play. This is the only silent film I truly love. I respect other silent films, but this one has it's own special room in my heart. A room with a kitchenette and a jacuzzi. And a balcony. That's how much I love it.
Dreyer got flack from his critics for his "overuse" of the close-up, and indeed in this film there are something like 1,000 close-ups and absolutely no establishing shots, leaving the viewer as disoriented as Joan herself. In one scene Joan's accusers press in, filmed from below in one of the hundreds of holes Dreyer dug for the camera (eventually earning himself the nickname Gruyere by his exhausted French crew). This unflagging proximity starts iconic and becomes something of a torture as we wince through everything with Joan. Her confinement is ours and by the end, we understand and admire her courage. (Coincidentally, the French were very hesitant to hire a Dane to portray the story of their most beloved iconic figure, but were vastly pleased with the result.)
The asymmetric set, (A model is on display in the Danish Film Museum) the lack of makeup, and the grueling sequential filming schedule no doubt did their part to add to Franconetti's sensitive performance as she strangely and totally embodies the nineteen year-old woman warrior. Dreyer says, "In Falconetti...I found the 'martyr's reincarnation.'" And it does seem that way. The script is taken almost verbatim from the court records of Joan's trial and execution over the course of some months (here condensed to a day or so).
Criterion's edition is loaded with extras. Worth the time to sift through it all.

Favorite Moments: Joan's statements of faith, shot editing in the torture chamber.


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