Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Short Review: Le Passion de Jeanne d'Arc [The Passion of Joan of Arc] (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)

The Passion of Joan of Arc is the most absorbing and visually intense silent film I have ever seen. It would still be an astonishing achievement if it was made only thirty years ago, but the fact that it stands as one of cinemas earliest major works, made in 1928, is just amazing. Utilizing the exact transcripts of the trial of Joan of Arc and spanning the time she was kept captive by the English, Carl Theodor Dreyer's unforgettable masterpiece relies on a contrast of extreme close-ups between Joan (one of the great silent performances in history by Maria Falconetti) and her prosecuting judges. Considering what has happened to the prints of this film (two were believed to have been lost in a fire), and eventually an original copy was discovered in a Norwegian mental institution in 1981, it is incredible to think that a version is available to enjoy today.

Set mostly in empty spaces for the first three quarters of the film, the faces become the canvas that display of all the emotion during this heartbreaking series of events. They have such interesting features, and despite the total absence of dialogue or sound effects, the films' message is driven by their expressions, and the occasional text page to demonstrate a key question or response. The swift cross-cutting between individuals is flawless for such an old film, and the luminous cinematography is also beautiful. The final ten minutes, consisting of the riots in protest to Joan's death are brutal and unforgettable. Accompanied by a haunting score composed by Richard Einhorn, this is no doubt one of the greatest films of all time, whose importance and influence is still very very apparent today!

My Rating: 5 Stars

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