The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), or Passion Plays And Silent Screams (Part 2)

6 05 2009

A little history lesson for you folks. Joan of Arc isn’t just any sexy short-haired strumpet. Way back during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), while English chevauchèe and a plague-stunted population made life very hard in lower-class France, one girl rose from her station in life and became a soldier for God and for her country. She was Joan of Arc, and she was way ahead of her time. She dressed in armor unbecoming of a woman during that time, cut her hair very short, and fought and won a number of battles for France. She was a revolutionary, in that sense, and I respect her resolve to go against social and religious taboos for her cause. She also heard voices, however, from God and from the angels, who told her that she needed to free France from English domination by His decree. And, because of her devotion to God’s word and His everlasting mercy, she was captured by the English, tried by a court of ecclesiastics, and burned at the stake for her refusal to wear women’s clothing. And England beat France in the War anyway.

Ouch. And if that’s a feel-good thought to you, then today’s subject, The Passion of Joan of Arc, gives us a look into those depressing final days and her subsequent execution. It was a silent film made in 1928, created using the actual transcribed testimonies of the heresy trial and conjecture at the hands of famed silent movie director Carl Dreyer. Many people consider this to be one of the greatest silent films, and I am tempted to side with them here.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is something very special. It doesn’t look like many other silent movies I’ve ever seen. There’s something very visceral and base in its nature that I thnk perhaps most other silent films eschewed for a softer, less intense experience. It’s unrelenting in its drive for a naturalism that borders on discomfort. For a camera that can only shoot so many frames before having to stop, the shots are extremely long for the period, and most of the time the camera is pointed squarely at the visage of the saint herself, played by Renèe Falconetti. Her performance is truly legendary.

Stay tuned for more on this timeless film, including more on Renèe Falconetti as Joan of Arc and why this might unwittingly be one of the first movies with an anti-religious message. Stay tuned tomorrow for part three!!!




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