1928; Not Rated; 82 Minutes
Maria Falconetti: Jeanne
Eugene Silvain: Eueque Pierre Cauchon
Antonin Artaud: Jean Massieu
Michel Simon: Judge Jean Lemaître
Maurice Schutz: Nicolas Lyseleur
Produced by Jean Hugo; Directed and screenwritten
by Carl Dreyer; based on the novel by Joseph
by DAVID KEYES
story of Joan of Arc has been an unsettling chapter in the
French's past--a sketchy but ironic chronicle of religious
faith, and one of the most perplexing essays in the search
for identity. What makes it such a difficult subject is
not necessarily the historical angle, but the moral instability
of the people involved; very little information has been
provided that can determine the sanity of the players (who
made decisions that can both garner respective or disruptive
judgments). The most puzzling debate is, not surprisingly,
centered on the very source herself; it becomes all too
unclear when some sources claim that she heard the voices
of God, and others try to discredit those remarks by denouncing
her as a mere lunatic. Actual documents from the trial that
resulted her execution are an immediate defense for the
latter conclusion, for they indicate Joan may not have been
completely sane when fighting for France's army during an
age when England was seeking control over many of the poor
European provinces. Yet similar texts paint the portrait
of an innocent, misunderstood woman who cared about people,
and devoted her life to saving a country from utterly pointless
am I headed with all of this? Before one can fittingly describe
a movie about Joan of Arc, they must at first inform others
where their own beliefs stand in the issue. My own feeling
is that Joan herself could have been both rational and crazy,
depending on the time period we are discussing. What can
be said, in either case, is that the very soul and heart
of the story was built on endless suffering. Nowhere is
it indicated that there was a moment of uplifting energy
that carried her and her comrades across the French territories.
Her violent end wasn't all that splendid, either.
of the general public is divided in the same way that historical
texts are, especially between the male and female audiences.
Many women seem to immediately come to her defense, while
most men choose to ask the questions--did she hear the voices
of God, or was she merely suffering from personal insanity?
The debate was most recently struck up in Luc Besson's "The
Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc," which questioned the
possibilities by directly attacking the self-proclaimed
"messenger of God." The movie itself was uneven, but it
was the first (at least that I've seen) since Carl Dreyer's
"The Passion Of Joan Of Arc" to generate enough bravery
to challenge the very soul of this unsolved mystery.
comparisons between both movies stop there. The latter suffers
from a variety of problems; the original, a French film
without establishing shots and many dialogue screens, is
perhaps one of the most intricate and powerful achievements
of the silent era. One would not, of course, expect much
less from a man like Carl Dreyer. His sense of eccentric
style helped evoke some of the most remarkable atmospheres
of early cinema; a faulty camera used in "Vampyr," for example,
caused footage to look ambiguous, dark and blotchy. Most
filmmakers would discard this type of footage and re-shoot
everything that was lost; Dreyer, on the other hand, felt
that the bleached hue gave strength to the eerie story,
and instructed his cinematographer to finish the film with
the exact same equipment.
"The Passion Of Joan Of Arc" remains his timeless masterpiece.
It must be difficult, for starters, to adapt this material
without having a personal belief interfere with the interpretation.
But this is exactly what Dreyer accomplished; his movie
is neither negative nor positive, and instead chooses to
remain in neutral territory, thus giving the viewer a chance
to decide for themselves the significance of Joan's fate.
In this conviction, both sides of the debate are portrayed
with some equality; there are moments when we feel frustration
towards Joan, and other moments when her tears and sorrow
melt our hearts. Does the movie make any kind of conclusion
about her sanity? Not really. But then again, that decision
shouldn't be made by the movies period.
film itself is revolved around the trial that ended her
life, surely the most informative phase of Joan's human
existence. Playing the character is the unforgettable Maria
Falconetti, who only made this movie, and then died a few
short years later. It is written that her performance is
the finest ever captured on film (her face and emotional
reactions embody the woman's last days almost effortlessly,
as if the actress had been Joan herself).
of our arbitrary theories take shape when the plot reaches
its horrifying conclusion, and the movie never tries to
make her death seem necessary or unjustified. Only the most
puzzling aspect of the story remains uncovered: why exactly
was Jeanne called Joan of Arc by those who told about her
life? This attribution is assuredly the kind that has been
attached to other historical figures like Ivan the Terrible
or Alexander the Great. But those figures at least garner
those titles with the obvious historical facts; Jeanne's
life is so sketchy that any type of conclusion is bound
to be an inaccurate one. The movie could have speculated
about the meaning of this name, but it stays on safer ground
by not doing so. Since I'm in the same neutral ground, I
may never know (unless there has been history written about
it that I am unaware of).
course, the typical questions will remain even after the
movie is over; did she deserve to die, or did she need to
survive for the benefit of her country? Only those who lived
during her time know the answers; for us, speculation is
the only way to make probable conclusions. To that effect,
Dreyer made use of the inconclusive substance to create
a drama about raw emotion instead of finding answers (perhaps
it is best that we make our own judgments regarding the
historical figure rather than having a movie try to force
them on us). The interpretation helps without dialogue,
because characters are not using words to influence our
evaluations. It all belongs in the facial expressions--some
will see Jeanne's tears and come to her defense, others
will see the court's frustration and jump on their bandwagon.
do we have a fascination with Joan of Arc in the first place?
Is it the lack of background information? Or is it the fact
that she claimed to have seen the image of God? I'd say
it was her gender that attracts people to the story; many
historical figures are men, and seldom does anyone find
a person like her so determined, smart and fearless in a
quest to find identity. "The Passion Of Joan Of Arc" embodies
those qualities without ever being bias towards the source
material or its players--it tells the facts as they were
written, and does not choose to rewrite them like so many
Joan of Arc movies that came afterwards.
David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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