The Passion of Joan of Arc

passion of joan II

(Review of The Passion of Joan of Arc, the silent film classic, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary.)
Celebrating its 90th anniversary, Dreyer’s film remains starkly modern in its composition and complexion, fixed in an otherworldly and hallucinogenic present. Jean Cocteau stated that the film played like “an historical document from an era in which cinema didn’t exist.”
Based on the actual transcripts from Joan of Arc’s trial, Dreyer compressed twenty-nine interrogations over eighteen months into a single scene. A jigsaw asymmetry of shots and angles, cinematically akin to the German Expressionism of the period, as well as a jarring blitzkrieg of close-ups, gives the film the feel of a prolonged gothic nightmare, with Joan’s inquisitors a cadre of incubi in vestments and robes. Rapacious intimacy is achieved through enclosure (antecedent to Lars von Trier’s claustrophobic tour de force, Dogville), and this stringency is made even more compelling by the fact that the entire set was a complex rendition of medieval architecture, yet only factors in to the film as more of a peripheral sketch, or skeletal imprint. It is the faces, framed in a rapidity of cuts and interpolations, which play out as visual arias in an operatic siege, with Falconetti’s face starring in all its amorphic genius. Stunningly mercurial in its subtle transitions, the vocabulary of the soul, unfettered, can be read in Falconetti’s expressions. From glazed vacancy, that faraway within, implying Joan’s beatific rapture, to the blinkless intensity of her moonshot eyes, to the slow and lugubrious movements of her head, Falconetti executes a poetic clinic on what can be conveyed from the neck-up. In one of the film’s most touching scenes, when an inquisitor asks Joan, “Who taught you the Our Father,” a tear glistens like a lighted scar along Joan’s cheek, as she responds, “My mother.” Yes, Joan may be the world’s most famous cross-dressing heretic turned saint, and the daughter of God, but she was also her mother’s child, and a vulnerable teenage girl caught between the crosshairs of visionary living and fragile wants. These nuances are indelibly captured by Falconetti’s performance, and Dreyer’s direction.
To read the full review click here.

About John Biscello

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, performer, and playwright, John Biscello, has lived in the high-desert grunge-wonderland of Taos, New Mexico since 2001. He is the author of four novels, Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, Nocturne Variations, and No Man’s Brooklyn; a collection of stories, Freeze Tag, two poetry collections, Arclight and Moonglow on Mercy Street; and a fable, The Jackdaw and the Doll, illustrated by Izumi Yokoyama. He also adapted classic fables, which were paired with the vintage illustrations of artist, Paul Bransom, for the collection: Once Upon a Time, Classic Fables Reimagined. His produced, full-length plays include: LOBSTERS ON ICE, ADAGIO FOR STRAYS, THE BEST MEDICINE, ZEITGEIST, U.S.A., and WEREWOLVES DON’T WALTZ.
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2 Responses to The Passion of Joan of Arc

  1. I love silent films. The acting is fascinating, the melodrama lovely. Exaggerated facial expressions and movements always shows commmunication at its finest. 🙂 With all the miscommunications in the world we should take some pointers. To much internet interaction. Haha

    Liked by 1 person

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