In 1941, Jeanne d’Arc (Renée Falconetti) is placed on trial on charges of heresy, for claiming she’d spoken to God. While in court, she’s subjected to inhumane treatment by the judges, who are trying to make her say something that will discredit her story or shake her belief that God has given her a special mission. Though initially bullied into changing her story, she reverts back to what she believes to be true, and as punishment, she endures a famously brutal execution, earning her martyrdom.
You claim that I am sent by the Devil. It’s not true. To make me suffer, the Devil has sent you… and you… and you… and you.
While I was familiar with the story of Joan of Arc prior to seeing Carl Th. Dreyer’s famous silent film, this was my first time actually seeing it depicted on screen, as there have been numerous movies made about the Catholic figure, with some notable ones being the 1948 film Joan of Arc starring an Oscar-nominated Ingrid Bergman, and the 1957 film Saint Joan starring Jean Seberg in her film debut. Though I can’t speak for how other adaptations tackled the story, what’s special about The Passion of Joan of Arc is its intimate look at one aspect of the saint’s life, that of her trial, leading up to her final moments. The film is particularly known for its close-ups of the titular character, wherein Joan’s devotion to her faith is very well illustrated by actress Renée Falconetti. To paraphrase the famous Norma Desmond from Sunset Blvd., this silent film is a great example of dialogue not being needed when Falconetti’s face perfectly exemplifies Joan’s turmoil.
Along with the constant close-ups throughout the film, the camerawork features some unusual framing, such as low angles and negative space, to really set the mood and give a better idea of what Joan is feeling as the film progresses, thereby keeping the audience more engaged. The sets themselves are also quite bare, giving off both a claustrophobic feel and a sense of vulnerability that the character is experiencing. I actually ended up watching this for the first time without sound (not sure if it was an issue on my end, or if the version I watched on FilmStruck didn’t include a score), but I still found it engrossing despite that. It may be cliche to say, but The Passion of Joan of Arc really is unique in its approach to telling a famous story.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Directed by: Carl Th. Dreyer
Starring: Renée Falconetti, Eugène Silvain, André Berley, Maurice Schutz