The Passion of Joan of Arc
SteelCity99 - wrote on 04/25/18
If any critic, filmmaker or movie lover were ever put in a situation where he/she needs to prove to someone else that cinema was once an art form and that, nowadays, cinema actually ends up being a true art form several times, mostly because of the pretentious and empty garbage that has been made principally for the last two decades which has given the impression that cinema was only created for entertainment purposes, the silent classic that this person needs to show is La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, from the acclaimed director Carl Theodor Dreyer. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc is a classic and a cinematographic legend in absolutely every single aspect. It represents the maximum capacity of perfection that the Seventh Art can really reach. It is not only one of the best movies of all time, but it is also the saddest and most depressing, heartwarming and uplifting (probably spiritual as well) personal experience that cinema could ever offer, belonging to a superior and hardly reachable category of cinema.
Joan of Arc (1412 - 1431) was a French national hero and a Catholic saint. Being a peasant born in eastern France, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War, claiming that she had divine guidance. She was also indirectly responsible for the coronation of Charles VII. At the age of 19, Joan of Arc was captured by the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court and burned alive under charges of heresy. Her innocence was later confirmed by the Spanish Pope Callixtus III (Alfonso de Borja), who posthumously reopened her case in 1456 after the death of Nicholas V, officially declaring the jurists that had condemned her as heretics. Finally, Joan of Arc received beatification by the Pope Pius X in 1909, and in 1920 she was canonized (therefore declared saint) by the Pope Benedict XV. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc is set on the trial of 1431, where she was put under a lot of pressure and received constant brutal criticism because of the divine visions that Joan of Arc had.
Carl Theodor Dreyer had a very well established vision before creating this immense golden jewel. Primarily, the grandiosity of Joan of Arc's character, despite the fact that she only lived until the age of 19, is clearly shown through the peculiar handling of an earthly divine cinematography. The image of Joan of Arc that Maria Falconetti accomplishes to bring to the screen is among the most staggering things that human eyes could ever have the pleasure of seeing. The shots, very intelligently taken care of and brilliant planned, clearly film Falconetti from a low angle, like if the spectator was meant to be looking towards the sky, giving us the impression that God was with her the whole time and that we are each time closer to the sky where eternal life awaits her. Moreover, the ecclesiastical court is captured from a high angle, making us feel it is conformed by inferior and inhuman beings ultimately submitted to the will of Satan.
Dreyer didn't only direct this masterpiece, but he was also in charge of the editing with the help of Joseph Delteil and elaborated the screenplay alongside with Marguerite Beaugé. Consequently, the editing is magical. Besides transporting the audience to the 14th Century along with the incredible costume design and the style of the art direction and set decoration, it makes the necessary transitions between the faces of the cruel jurists and Joan of Arc which are powerful enough to make us aware of the colossal amount of humanity that our main character had from beginning to end. This film has arguably the most beautiful musical score ever committed in a silent film as well. It is definitely superior to classics such as Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925), Metropolis (1927) and any Charles Chaplin movie, considering the fact that it was Chaplin himself the one who composed the music of all of his films. Objectively speaking, the musical score of La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc is the one created by Ole Schmidt in 1982, which is utterly spectacular. A new score was made two years ago by Jesper Kyd, but missed the predominant spirituality of the film and the influence of Joan of Arc in humankind's history, not to mention the original approach by Dreyer to the plot.
Specifically talking about the acting, the show is completely stolen by Maria Falconetti. There are people who claim that her performance is the best female leading performance in cinema history, and I am proudly included in that majority. The face she possesses is so beautiful, so revealing, so depressing, so divine, so beautiful and so heartbreaking that people who even consider themselves as atheists and agnostic persons cannot find difficulty in admiring this film at least because of its technical aspects, the editing, the cinematography and one of the most wonderful leading performances ever seen. Maria Falconetti was the living proof that an awesome makeup, an elegant and expensive costume design, shouting and exaggerated dramas or endlessly long dialogues aren't required for offering unparalleled performances. Acting involves going deeply into the mind of a particular character, whether it is real or fictitious, dead or alive, and portraying it in the most natural possible way. Maria Falconetti is the only woman that has actually achieved to accomplish such grandiose task.
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc is one of the greatest achievements of cinema history technically and artistically speaking. The film was directed before the horror gem filmed in Germany called Vampyr - Der Traum des Allan Grey (1932) was made. Some audiences also prefer Robert Bresson's Procès de Jeanne d'Arc (1962) over Dreyer's version, which reconstructs the whole trial of Joan of Arc, starred by Florence Delay. Even so, Bresson's vision missed to effectively depict the tragic sensation transmitted through the silent classic film and to masterfully contrast such great beauty with powerful brutality. Dreyer's version ends up being far way better in every single aspect. Despite being his most famous and most seen feature film, it is the best movie within his filmography and arguably the best silent film ever made, obviously excluding the extremely blasphemous, action-oriented version of Luc Besson starred by Milla Jovovich.
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc not only helped masses, myself included, to strengthen their faith in God, to look at life with optimism, to appreciate the beauty of things that life includes and shows everyday and to defend religious ideals, but also helped them, no matter what their ages were, to recognize an artistic and cinematographic masterpiece when it is released, and, on a personal note, it is literally one of the few films that have changed my life. More than admiring Dreyer because of his achievement, more than admiring the film because of its majesty, and more than admiring Falconetti because of her acting, we should be really grateful. It is one of those meaningful epitomes of cinematic perfection.