Carl Theodore Dreyer, the aforementioned director, was a visionary whose career took some strange twists and turns along the way. Besides making serious religious crises dramas, he also made light comedies (Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife), horror films (Vampire), and one of the first films ever about a gay relationship (Michael). He was a Renaissance man, in that regard, but he always brought the same level of organic naturalism to his films, which really allows them to stand out from the completely over-wrought films of the era. Watching a Dreyer picture is like watching a documentary of incredibly interesting people; they’re just like us, only cooler. And he could always come at you with a different angle. He could be sweet, he could be full of regret, or he could be down-right terrifying. In The Passion of Joan of Arc, I think he’s coming from a very wistful point of view, as if he regrets humanity on a whole for what has been done to her, and he wanted to apologize with an 82-minute love note.
In the pantheon of film, I think that this one will always stand out. Not only for its groundbreaking techniques, its incredibly talented cast and crew, and its powerful subject matter, but for its wonderfully understated and organic style, its piercing tone of desperation, and its underlined portrayal of religious fanaticism and psychotic ecstasy. Whenever I think of silent film greatness, one of the first images to pop into my head will be that of a forlorn Renèe Falconetti silently weeping in her jail cell, waiting to be sacrificed for a petty crime in the name of a God who would rather watch and smile than act and be judged. It’s an undeniably strong image, and it will stay with me the rest of my days. I give The Passion of Joan of Arc 10 sad-eyed saints out of 10. My highest recommendation!
Keep an eye out later today for my take on Barton Fink and, even later, my viewing of The Running Man