Newly released on Blu-ray from the good folks at Eureka!/Masters of Cinema is a superb edition of Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, a masterpiece of world cinema that recently made the much-hyped 2012 Sight and Sound Critics’ Poll of the ten best films of all time. It was also the movie I chose to inaugurate a new Global Cinema class I taught at Oakton Community College earlier in the year. Below are thoughts on both the enduring film itself as well as Masters of Cinema’s terrific new hi-def transfer.
If the motion picture, with its primarily visual vocabulary and ability for ubiquitous worldwide exhibition, is the most international of art forms, then the most international decade it has ever known may well have been the 1920s. This was when the movies had reached a state of full artistic maturity but had not yet been segregated by nationality according to the dictates of spoken language. (In the memorable phrase of Roger Ebert, “Talkies were like the Tower of Babel, building walls between nations.”) The late silent era was a time when film stars crossed national borders with regularity. “Foreign” accents and even the inability to speak the language of a given country were not yet a hindrance: Swedish actress Greta Garbo came to Hollywood around the same time that American actress Louis Brooks decided to try her luck in Germany. Directors too traveled far and wide: Alfred Hitchcock made his first two movies in Germany, Sergei Eisenstein directed an experimental short in France, while Ernst Lubitsch brought his famous “touch” to Hollywood and stayed for good. As a result of this cross-pollination of talent, the late silent era saw the release of a number of films that functioned as grand summations of what had come before, movies that integrated the innovations of filmmakers working in different countries over the decades. Chief among these is the 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc, a production of the French studio Gaumont that was written and directed by the Danish Carl Theodor Dreyer.
The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the most unusual, modern-looking and best movies of the entire silent era. Unlike most Joan of Arc biopics, including Luc Besson’s The Messenger and virtually all of the ones produced in Hollywood, it eschews battle scenes and externally dramatic heroic deeds in favor of the more interior, spiritual journey undertaken by the revered saint in her final days on earth. Dreyer focuses only on Joan’s imprisonment, trial and execution, which is unusual in itself but his recreation of the period is so authentic, his style of filmmaking so pure and refined and the lead performance of Renee Falconetti so naturalistic that the first time I screened it in class, several students told me they felt like they were watching a “documentary” that had somehow been made in the 15th century. Abetting this sense of realism is the fact that virtually all of the film’s dialogue (represented, of course, by intertitles) is taken verbatim from the actual transcripts of Joan’s trial, as a handy prologue makes clear. Interestingly, Robert Bresson virtually remade Dreyer’s movie as The Trial of Joan of Arc in 1962 by also focusing on Joan’s final days (though Bresson misguidedly attempted to “correct” the earlier film by removing all traces of acting). In the 1990s, Jacques Rivette split the difference by making two companion piece features: one about Joan in battle and another focusing only on her trial.
The Passion of Joan of Arc prominently features techniques associated with the Soviet Montage, French Impressionist and German Expressionist movements but Dreyer has combined them with other techniques and in such unorthodox ways that the end result feels entirely fresh and new. The most prominent visual trope in Joan is its famous and relentless use of extreme close-ups, a technique that looks as radical today as it must have in 1928. In the early stages of the film especially, Dreyer uses extremely tight framing of both Joan and her trial judges to capture every emotional nuance of Falconetti’s performance and every wrinkle on the faces of her interrogators, as well as to convey an overall atmosphere of claustrophobia and oppression. Dreyer notoriously had large and expensive sets built for the movie and then for the most part refused to show them. The almost perverse lack of wide shots leads to a feeling of unbearable intensity; Dreyer repeatedly denies viewers the relief, the sheer breathing room, that a more distanced view of the action would have provided.
The influence of German Expressionism can be felt in the glimpses of the sets that we are occasionally able to see behind the actors. The windows that appear on the wall behind and above the judges are crooked and mismatched, featuring bizarre, diamond-shaped window panes. They look almost like something out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which is unsurprising considering that the legendary German art director Herman Warmm designed the sets for both films. This aspect of the set, though rarely glimpsed, combines with the ugly, leering faces of the old judges to convey the impression of a twisted, abusive authority. (Significantly, the only character to show Joan sympathy is a handsome young priest played by the Surrealist writer Antonin Artaud.) The pacing of Joan is relatively slow in these early trial scenes, reflecting Dreyer’s belief that “Rhythm and milieu go together.” Later, the action dramatically breaks into rapidly edited sequences when Joan is faced with the torture-chamber and when French peasants begin rioting outside of the prison compound. The former scene reflects the influence of French Impressionism, where editing is used to show how a character experiences time subjectively (i.e., time seems to accelerate for the terrified Joan); the latter scene uses fast editing in a Soviet-style montage to compress time, space and action. Both scenes have a shocking force precisely because they follow the slow, steady rhythm that Dreyer has carefully built up beforehand.
A year ago, I reviewed the new blu-ray of Citizen Kane and analyzed that film as a kind of self-conscious “synthesis” of all the major historical movements in cinema that had preceded it. I believe The Passion of Joan of Arc fulfills this same function for the silent era; as with Kane, Dreyer’s synthesis is not a dry, academic exercise but rather a means for the director to use all of the cinematic tools available to him to execute his story in the most effective way possible. The end result is, after all, emotionally involving to the point of being occasionally gut-wrenching. Dreyer blends his disparate aesthetic approaches together and ultimately subsumes them into what might be termed the great Dane’s singular “ascetic style” – one that draws us into Joan’s inner world and conveys a sense of her soul. This is a style that Dreyer would continually refine and improve over the course of his next four features (Vampyr, Day of Wrath, Ordet and Gertrud). Yet there is no better place to first acquaint oneself with the filmography of one of the best directors of all time than with this passionate, enrapturing portrait of the beloved Maid of Orleans.
Notes on the Blu-ray: The Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of The Passion of Joan of Arc deviates from previous home video releases in several key ways. First, the bad news: Richard Einhorn’s oratorio “Visions of Light,” included on Criterion’s 1999 DVD release, is not included among the soundtrack options. This is cause for regret because “Visions of Light” is a masterpiece in its own right and is as close to “definitive” as a non-original score for a silent film can be (like most silents, Joan had no official original score). Instead, MoC has provided two newly commissioned musical soundtrack options, a traditional piano score by silent film specialist Mie Yanashita and a more modern one by avant-garde composer Loren Connors. Both scores are serviceable but, in the absence of “Voices of Light,” one might consider watching the movie with the sound turned off completely. Dreyer’s film has a very unique rhythm, the integrity of which might come across most powerfully if experienced in total silence. Now the good news: the image quality is astonishing and Eureka/MoC, as with nearly all of their releases, have taken painstaking care to get it right. The film is presented at two different speeds – 20fps and 24fps – in much the same way that the same company’s release of Touch of Evil was presented in two different aspect ratios. (The Criterion DVD runs at 24fps and appears to my eyes to run slightly too fast. Kudos to MoC for giving the viewer multiple options.) Also of great interest is the fact that Joan is presented here for the first time on home video with its original Danish intertitles, written by Dreyer himself, with optional English subtitles. This is an improvement over the Criterion DVD, which only offered Gaumont’s original French intertitles. Finally, the Blu-ray image quality itself trumps that of the Criterion DVD in every possible area, including contrast, clarity, and fine object detail. This is, in short, the version of this movie one needs to own. Hopefully, Criterion, who presumably still hold the rights to the Einhorn score, will release their own Blu-ray at some point in the future and offer the option of multiple musical scores – including not only the Einhorn but also this intriguing-sounding one written by Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp).
December 12th, 2012 at 9:26 pm
Ik this comment has no relevence to this post but i thought of you while watching the real housewives of miami… One of the wives had her husbands parents over for their 50th anniversery and the dad used to make under water films for jaques cousteau!!! I was like i know that name. It was cool. (btw i was in your perspective on films class summer 2012 at oakton) 🙂
December 12th, 2012 at 10:59 pm
Ha! Of course I remember you, Melanie, you goofball. I’m so glad that my former students have retained SOMETHING that I taught them!
BTW, I plan on watching Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter real soon. Maybe I’ll post some thoughts on it here . . .
December 12th, 2012 at 11:54 pm
Hell yeah- if it wasnt for your class i would never think of watching a movie in a different language and actually enjoying them (aka the french new wave). After your class I missed watching them so i looked up all of the prominent directors of the new wave and went on a spree for a while lol.
Ps- thatd be AWESOME
December 12th, 2012 at 10:01 pm
What an essential reading this is! Everything I want to and should know about the film and the MoC Blu are here.
I own the Criterion DVD,and agree with you that the “Visions of Light” is sensational,it was like listening to a saintly chorus.
Any insights on the 100-page book in the package?
December 12th, 2012 at 11:00 pm
I haven’t gotten around to looking at the booklet yet but I can’t wait to dig in, especially for the new translations of the writings by Bunuel et al. BTW, I haven’t even watched the full 24fps version yet, only the 20fps, which is what this review was based on.
January 21st, 2013 at 7:39 am
thanks for your excellent review.
February 3rd, 2015 at 7:51 pm
While I felt the emotional power exuded by this film, I was unable to sympathize fully with Joan. In fact, near the end of the movie, I was impatient for Joan to “hurry up and die”, not because I disliked the actress or her depiction of Joan of Arc, but rather because the entire film had me feeling like I was watching a train wreck. I am an atheist, so a trial involving life and death over religious heresy just feels ridiculous to me, like watching children bully one another over what kind of shoes they’re wearing.
Knowing the historical context of her trial greatly shapes how one views the film, in my opinion. France was in a period of civil war between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs, with the Burgundians allied with the English who were trying to conquer northern France. Joan of Arc was a member of the Armagnacs, and backed the French King Charles VII. Charles VII owed his coronation to the valiant efforts of Joan of Arc.
In order to damage King Charles VII’s claim to the French throne, the Burgundians and the English sought to convict Joan of Arc of heresy, so that they could claim that Charles VII owed his kingship to the devil. Joan faced an illegal trial presided over by “upwardly mobile” Bishop Pierre Cauchon, who supported the Burgundians and wished to gain prestige for this.
Treating Joan of Arc as a Saint is a mistake. As an atheist, I feel her claim to divine inspiration is a product of her own mind, and not of God. As someone who thinks it is absurd to claim God is on any one nation’s side, I feel that her credibility further erodes by claiming to be sent by God to drive the English from France. Finally, I doubt her innocence and benign intentions since she sent a letter to the Hussites, a Christian denomination, declaring her intent to exterminate them unless they returned to Catholicism. Thankfully, she never got the chance to commit genocide.
For all of these reasons, the emotional effect of the film is blunted for me. I might compare my reaction to this film to my reaction to Downfall. Simply the final days of one of many in a long line of narcissistic and megalomaniacal leaders at the hands of other megalomaniacs…emotional, disturbing, powerful… like watching a train wreck.
February 4th, 2015 at 10:13 am
I’m giving you a 7/10 for this response, Charles, not because you were impatient for Joan to die but because your response does not reflect what you learned about the film in class or in the above reading. Always ask yourself: could I have written my report if I had watched the movie on my own without hearing what Professor Smith had to say about it? If the answer is yes, you are not doing your job as a student in my class. You must show that you understand how the films are relevant to the course. Also, please spare a few words for the visual style of each film we see in the future. Movies are primarily a _visual_ art form but your comments on JOAN could have been written about it if you had read it as a novel or watched it as a play.
As far as the content of your remarks: I am an atheist too (as I mentioned in class) but that certainly doesn’t blunt the emotional impact of the film for me. Is it necessary to “fully sympathize” with or even like a movie’s protagonist in order to like the movie? I think Joan has a freakishly stubborn, almost-possessed quality that definitely makes her difficult to _identify_ with but I also think she’s admirable for sticking to her beliefs even in the face of certain death. As far as you doubting her innocence and benign intentions, this reflects more about you and the baggage you brought to the film than anything that’s actually on the screen.
February 7th, 2015 at 2:30 pm
The Passion of Joan Arc is a captivating film that left me feeling quite tense throughout the entire movie. It is interesting to see that the movement of the camera plays such a crucial role in relating the viewer to the character’s thoughts and emotions. Although the story line itself is intense on its own, the angles and cuts add dramatic affect to the film.
The actors being so in your face put me in a sort of uncomfortable position, which I am sure that is what the director was aiming for since I don’t believe anyone would feel comfortable in such a situation. Dreyer using the French impressionistic tactics with the zooming into the faces of the actors and the spinning of the camera to portray the chaotic feelings and emotions all give the viewer a sense of perception on what was going on. If the camera were to remain still, showing the entire scene and background while the characters acted I would feel as though I am merely watching a play, whereas the up closeness makes you feel as though you are there.
The German expressionism was a little more difficult to see clearly while watching the movie. I don’t think I would have noticed the misshaped windows or the sketchy setting of the scenes since it was rarely shown. I definitely noticed the younger, “good looking” judges being the nice guys and the “ugly” ones being fowl. It’s funny (and a bit shallow) how the human mind works to associate looks with a sense of rights and wrongs.
I feel as though the movie started off a bit slow and began to pick up the pace towards the end of the film, but the montage strategy did not seem as clear as it does in the example you gave on Rocky training in a short amount of time on screen. Joan was sentenced to be burned at the stake, people began rioting, the camera constantly flashing around which is another example of impressionism all took only a few minutes on film but surely endured longer than that. All this added the dramatic affect needed to relate and sympathize for the character.
Although I have never heard about Joan’s trial and am uncertain of her honesty in her claims, Dreyer did a fantastic job of making me believe this was real. The emotion in the actresses eyes and face was not overdone. It was off putting which makes it seem realistic. The men definitely portrayed a hostiles vibe by their looks and constant closeups. All in all, Dreyer captivated me with all the on going suspense, intensity, and suspense in the the way he filmed his shots. It is amazing that a movie done in 1928 could move me as it did.
February 7th, 2015 at 7:03 pm
I love your observation that the close-ups make you feel like you’re there (as opposed to the more theatrical “long shots”). Well done. 10/10
February 7th, 2015 at 11:57 pm
First of all, excellent post, Mr. Smith. What you have said is spot-on. It is incredible that this was the only major film role of Renee Falconetti’s. I cannot think of any other role she would have been good in. Even the prologue mentions that this Joan is not a kick-ass, mighty warrior, but rather a pious yet intimidated young woman who died defending her country and faith in God. Falconetti goes through eternal weariness and misery, except for whenever she has a crazy look in her eye (such as when Joan remains passionate that God had chosen her to save France from the invading British forces and refuses to confess) or is hysterically unstable (as in her eventual decision to be burned at the stake). Who isn’t shell-shocked when someone realizes they are going to spend their last few living hours on trial?
The lack of makeup means you can see every last pore, boil, and wrinkle on the judges, which makes them even more disturbing, especially in close-up. Early on in the film, a friar looms over Joan and spits right in her face, telling her what she says is blasphemy against God. The actors are inhabiting their roles to the point that they are hardly actors at all, but instead embodiments. There is, of course, a greater focus on close-ups throughout the film, which means all of Herman Waumm’s Expressionistic set designs are hardly ever seen, which greatly (and understandably) upset Waumm. However, these close-ups allow you to further explore the emotions of the characters and empathize with Joan in her emotional state.
Dreyer studied the actual transcripts to the trial of Joan of Arc and used them word-for-word for this movie, which gives the sequence a great deal of realism. The religious symbolism is apparent when the sunlight on the window in Joan’s cell creates a shadow resembling a cross, which is really the only time she actually keeps her spirits up before a priest’s shadow blocks it.
The editing in the torture chamber scene does indeed resemble French Impressionism, in that we explore Joan’s thoughts and sense of time with flash cuts from her perspective to the spinning spikes on one of the torture devices. This intercutting is further examined when she is burned at the stake and breathing her last, which is interspersed with the flames spreading, the birds flying away, and the symbolic image of the crucifix. A perfect example of Dreyer’s mise-en-scene occurs earlier when we go through Joan’s mind as she imagines someone excavating a grave site. A human skull pops up from there and, in a close-up, we see a maggot crawling around in the eye socket.
Certain shots in the rioting that ensues following Joan’s burning at the stake look as if Dreyer was inspired by Battleship Potemkin, in terms of the staging and mise-en-scene (after all, it had only been 3 years since Potemkin was first released when Dreyer was making this movie).
So far, I have only watched the movie with the accompanying concert piece Voices of Light by Richard Einhorn, but for me, there really is no better way to watch it than with that music. The medieval chanting of the chorus and heavy orchestra certainly add to the overall intensity of the atmosphere. One moment, the music sounds all angelic and peaceful, then it does a complete 180 when the choir and orchestra roar right at us, almost as if you are experiencing a Satantic ritual. The only truly lighthearted moments occur when the guards mercilessly taunt Joan in her cell, accompanied by the plucking of strings and male voices.
The version I saw of Joan of Arc was the restored original cut discovered in a Norwegian mental institution in the early ’80s. Looking at a brief side-by-side comparison, the first version is obviously the better film, because Dreyer got everything right that first time when filming the takes and reaction shots. He brought us (as an audience) something that truly had to be seen to be believed.
February 8th, 2015 at 12:23 am
Although it is hard for us to imagine another role Falconetti “could have been good in,” if we had had the opportunity to see her in other roles, I have the feeling we would feel like she could have done anything. 10/10
February 8th, 2015 at 12:04 am
UPDATE: I meant to write Herman Warm when referring to the Expressionistic set design.
February 8th, 2015 at 12:48 pm
Passion of Joan of Arc
I really like the things you pointed out in this article. They have given me more to think about regarding my overall thoughts on this film. This movie left me speechless and with a lot on my mind. After seeing the mixture of soviet montage, german expressionism, and french impressionism, I understand how this movie is powerful. I agree with your analogy about the crooked/mismatched windows with the twisted minds/faces of the judges. I had a similar thought regarding how there’s not a lot of backgrounds in this film, with the fact that we don’t know too much about the judges. We don’t know who they are when they don’t work, so it’s creepy that we just have to “trust” everything they say: trust their judgment, just because they are of high authority. Another thing I really liked about this movie, was the soundtrack. I felt like it was perfect, it was natural, and especially the church bells; thinking of that specific genre of music.
The fact that neither Joan nor the judges were wearing any makeup, gave the film a more realistic touch. I feel like that was smart to do; the film was already based on a real person and actual events. What could show more disrespect towards that than casting supermodels who will never look the part. It’s true that this movie is older, so even if the casting was inappropriate, we probably wouldn’t be able to tell. Likewise, the acting was phenomenal and I couldn’t possibly see this movie with anyone else.
The dialogue, besides the trial which was taken from the actual event, was amazing. Even the smaller things said or seen through facial expression are worth giving credit to/for. When the two guys were making fun of her, she (like one of my classmates pointed out) looked annoyed. Not even annoyed, like a painful sadness. Joan was at the stage where she just didn’t care what happened to her. Mentally she was in one place, and she wasn’t going to change her mindset. Not even to change the future or save her life. And that, I think is one of the more stronger themes in this film. It’s why I have so much respect for it. I really enjoyed this film, If I never watched this in your class, I never would have understood true fictional sadness, bravery, and fear.
February 8th, 2015 at 3:16 pm
I must say, I truly enjoyed The Passion of Joan Arc. Not for the fact that I’m drawn to and adore anything that reflects older and classic eras (hence this film being made in the late 20’s), but that the film depicted the war within Joan in the midst of her personal tribulation and that it truly kept me on the edge of my seat.
I cannot recall a film that I’ve watched, filmed from such unique angles. To be honest, within the first five minutes of the film, I was worried that a) the close up angles would drag out the film, b) the story line taking place all within the same location (for the most part) might also slow the pace of the film and c) that the absence of hearing the actors/actress speak wouldn’t have a powerful impact. Boy, was I wrong.
For French Impressionism, by “conveying the subjective psychological impression of the characters,” the film was a depiction through the very eyes of Joan.The camera angles are focused upward, when Joan looks at her judges, and slightly downward when on Joan. The slow and steady movement of the camera from left to right and vice versa made me feel as though I were Joan, observing the faces of the Pharisees themselves; as if my very own life were in the hands of these men and I were frantically looking for a glimmer of hope so that my life would be sparred.
For German Expressionism, there were certain details I wouldn’t have noticed, had I watched the film prior to the lecture. The slanted diamonds of the glass windows, certain shadows in different scenes and even the shot of Joan walking in, her ankles chained together gave an unsettling vibe. The fact that Dreyer spent so much money on a set that was barely shown in the film makes me laugh a little. Although people were probably complaining, Dreyer knew what was best. Capturing little of what was the set still reflected that expressionist vibe, with its contort details that in the end won Dreyer’s film a spot as one of the greatest films of all time.
Finally, for Soviet Montage, the riot scene after Joan being burned to death is a perfect example of this. The fast changing scenes of people crying out, running, glass windows being shattered, a man holding up a cross, all run in a collage like effect forcing one to keep up as well as take it all in.
Overall, the title of this film was a true depiction of the passion of a young girl, fighting for her belief in a revelation from God. The expressions of Joan and every other character within the film were powerful, even more than audio itself might have been. This film had the power to personally place me in Joan’s shoes. The film was enticing, compelling, genuine, a pure documentation of how the trial could have possibly played out. One word to describe this film; authentic.
February 8th, 2015 at 10:45 pm
After watching The Passion of Joan of Arc, and after reading your article, I really began to realize that the camera plays a big role in expressing the characters emotions and their thoughts. I never would have thought that a silent movie could be as intense as this film was.
The way Dryer used French Impressionism with the close up zoom on the faces of the actors made this film seem like you were actually there witnessing it in person. With the zoom up on faces, I could really understand how the actors were feeling. Also, with the way that Dryer would move the camera around and go back and forth between the actors made more of a suspenseful feeling.
The German Expressionism was harder for me to completely see. I did notice the misshaped windows but that is all I really noticed because it was so rarely shown throughout the film. However, I did like how Dryer used mise-en-scene to depict how the younger good looking priests were the nicer ones and how the older ugly priests were the mean and fowl ones.
The montage in this film picked up a lot towards the end of this film. In the beginning it seemed very slow and boring because the film only occurred in the court room. Once Joan was sentenced to death by burning at the stake, that’s when the camera began to move around a lot more. People were rioting and the camera kept moving from riot scene to riot scene and back to Joan burning at the stake. This reflected both French Impressionism, because there were close ups on faces, and German Expressionism, because the scene in the background reflected on the chaos going on around.
I enjoyed this silent film because I never would have thought that a silent film could be this powerful in expressing feelings. Dryer really made me feel like I was actually witnessing this in person. Being a Catholic, I knew the story of Joan of Arc, but after watching this, I truly understand the pain and fear that she really went through. Dryer did a great job of showing me that.
February 8th, 2015 at 11:06 pm
First let me say how much I loved this movie. Everything about was just amazing to me. All the actors, visuals and god the music. The music is just incredible and fit so perfectly with the film. I love it so much I keep on trying to get my family to watch it.
Anyway I agree with you on the German Expression part. The diamond slanted windows was one of the big ones, the hole the Father looks through as the other pastor was talking to Joan, and the shadows everyone gave off. Just great.
With Soviet Montage there was less, but when it was there it had a lot coming at you. I can remember two parts. The first being in the torture chamber for the first time. It kept on cutting from torture machine to torture machine as Joan kept looking at them. Then with the big wheel one it kept cutting from her face to it as it got faster and faster. Then the last big one was the end riot scene. Seeing all the people fight back and people dying, getting stepped on, or just thrown aside like nothing.
Finally French Impression. It had a lot of it. Especially with the close ups with the judges cutting back and forth and then to Joan trying to keep up with them, with that brilliant big opened look. (couldn’t get enough of that. It just felt so right for her to express herself like that. She didn’t need to talk, the look was just right to get the message) The angles were always perfect too. Every shot of judge was angled in a way to be like “please get that sweaty old man off the camera” and then go back to Joan who was trying to process all their questions at once. The court room scene was one of the best parts of French Impression in the film. The quickfire angled close up shots that worked perfectly.
In the end, The Passion of Joan of Arc was just amazing. Every expression on each character was just amazing. This film truly showed Joans final days and was powerful enough to almost make me cry. Joan’s passion at the end of being sent by god really got to me and that she would rather die than confess. True Saint right there. All in all, this film was a powerful piece of work that was in terms, amazing.
February 10th, 2015 at 1:10 am
The Passion of Joan of Arc was a FANTASTIC silent film which should bring a captivating experience to almost any viewer. The close-ups of Joan (Maria Falconetti) are superb, giving you the ability to feel a reaction toward the character. The musical score was also fantastic giving the film a suspenseful push when the situation started to turn the wrong way for Joan.
The fantastic use of French Impressionism really stood out throughout the film. In the scene where Joan is sitting on a bed while the religious higher-ups are off making a decision on what they should do with her, all seems lost, until we see a shadow of a cross form and fade on to the stone floor. We then zoom and pan over to see the sun shining through the window of Joan’s room. This scene brings an uplifting emotional effect into the movie where we think; when all is lost for Joan there is hope.
Dryer puts the use of Soviet Montage filming toward the conclusion of the film together very nicely as well. From the start of the fire, burning Joan alive at the steak, and the townspeople rioting, Dryer brings us the effects of a live and dangerous riot. The powerful clips he presents to the viewers; as Joan gets weaker the townspeople grow stronger, unleashing their wrath upon the wrongdoing of the Roman Catholic Church, Soldiers using their weapons to deter anyone who is in their way. The death of innocent bystanders getting attacked with spears and spiked iron balls with chains. Dryer’s ability to recognize provide a montage, which gives you the ability to feel the anger and sorrow of the townspeople, really shows how talented he was.
The younger characters representing the good and forgiving priests, and the evil representing the old and ruthless priests really brought out the German Expressionism in the film. I also really liked the scene where we see Joan receiving the sacraments after completing her confession and out of nowhere we see the older priest who pretends to help Joan out, but really just screws her over; we see that he comes off a bit sad and disappointed. Maybe not for the fact that this poor hero is about to burn at the steak, but because he couldn’t see the light that she could and he couldn’t find it in himself to see the message she brought from god. He was saddened that he knew he made a mistake, and he would have to live with it for the rest of his life.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this film and Dryer’s film techniques. It was definitely not what I expected for a silent film but it turned out to be a lot greater then I would have ever imagined.
February 10th, 2015 at 1:45 am
The day I saw Joan or Arc I did not feel like it was my kind of movie and did not care too much for it. But the film stuck with me and I can still see the tense close ups and vividly remember the sorrow in Falconetti’s eyes. It has only been a week so far but I am coming to appreciate Dryer’s film more and more with each new day.
It was the filming techniques grew on me more than anything, paired with the soundtrack this movie seems like it is decades ahead of its time. The techniques like German Expressionism is something I would not notice the first time watching a film but I completely agree that Dryer kept us locked into the intensity and did not let up.It was the heavy use of extreme close ups and seldom use of wide shots made the film much more personal and put the audience in the trial with Joan. And then the montages of rioting at the end really captures the angst we felt when the saint was laid to rest. I also appreciate that it was a silent film I feel like that it takes away an identity of a film to one group of people and makes the film even more timeless.
This is film that definitely took some time for me to digest and I would like to re-watch to fully appreciate Dryer’s directing and Falconetti’s performance.
February 10th, 2015 at 8:26 am
I hope you do get to rewatch it, Daniel!
February 10th, 2015 at 1:48 am
I never thought I would like a silent movie/ foreign movie as much as I like this one. Usually I am someone who watches action, adventure, and comedy. This movie caught my interest because it was very disturbing. Although, the music was what made the difference. Without the music I don’t think I would have known whats going on. I used the music to follow along with what was going on in the scene. When the music build, I could send the emotions ramping up. As it got intense, I knew Joan’s despair and desperation was growing. She was being judged harshly, the oppression was growing, or when she was being let to her execution. It was so sad when she was getting her hair cut, the music slowed down show her hopelessness.
French Expression was really intense when Joan was going back and forth with the Judge trying to figure out her sentence. Not just then but when the camera was spinning around the room when all the men are talking amongst themselves.
All of the close up of the characters were really intense because you could just tell that Dryer wanted to you really focus on Joan’s expression when she was getting sentenced by the judge. German Expressionism wasn’t just Joan’s expressions but for all of the other characters as well. When you saw the judges in the close ups you could see in their eyes and facial expressions the anger, hatred, and loathing they had for Joan and then in turn the passion and seriousness about sentencing her.
In this film montage really wasn’t used to shows anything happening over time. Unlike in Rocky montage where you see him training and over time you can see he is getting stronger and then you see him at his top shape.
Over all I liked the film because it was something more artistic than what I am use to seeing. Also i liked how he use German Expressionism to show the depth of emotions of the characters without being distracted by scenery and other items in the background.
February 10th, 2015 at 3:59 am
Even thought there might have been a big set where he chose to film things like keeping the camera at head level to show the emotion of the scenes like when in the scene where they say that a saint has been killed the camera is in a angle that you feel like you would be standing at. then as the riot continues the camera angle get more dramatic like going up side down. Another thing that in in the film that shows the French Impressionist was the guards and how they acted throughout the film even though they had to project the castle by attacking the people of the riot, although they don’t say much they leader or lieutenant showed some form of pity for Joan.
February 10th, 2015 at 10:06 am
I would agree with your statement that “the almost perverse lack of wide shots leads to a feeling of unbearable intensity”, but this isn’t necessarily an entirely positive aspect of the film. “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is not an easy movie to watch, it requires you give it your complete attention in order to fully understand and appreciate it. Indeed, after watching it I felt mentally weary – although this might be because it was late in the day and I hadn’t had any coffee. While Dreyer’s filming style does make the story more intimate and the actors more relatable, it is also emotionally draining. Most movies you see – even the more serious dramas and some horror films – have at least one or two scenes that utilize comedy to grant the audience a reprieve from the solemnity of the rest of the film. “The Passion of Joan of Arc” does no such thing.
This probably was Dreyer’s intention. As you said, Dreyer’s method of film editing and even his set designs help you put yourself into Joan’s state of mind. Since “The Passion of Joan of Arc” revolves around Joan’s interrogation and eventual execution, it makes sense that one would feel as worn down as she. However, given society’s current addiction to social media and constant distractions, I wonder if this important piece of film history will be watched less and less as time goes on due to it’s relentless and oftentimes exhausting intensity.
On a side note, I find it ironic that for me the lack of makeup on the actors/actresses faces actually makes the film a little too realistic. In fact, I bet the ratio of people not wearing makeup/wearing makeup in the film is higher than it would be in my day to day interactions with people. The constant use of closeups makes you pay more attention to the little tics and expressions of each actor’s face, more than you would in your day to day life.
February 10th, 2015 at 10:47 am
The Passion of Joan of Arc is the definition of a timeless film, the raw expressions and the phenomenal acting work in unison with the silent format. Dreyer’s imagery during a good sum of the film draws Christ like comparisons to Joan. A specific scene would be of Joan within her assigned chambers. Two guards tease her with the crown and arrow that draws obvious comparisons to Christ. Dreyer uses similar symbolism throughout the entire film. I respect that they stayed true to the source material and I liked how Dreyer showed and used the actual document that was written for Joan’s case.
German Expressionism and Russian Montage techniques are both used in this film to great effect. The expressionism is portrayed in different parts of the set like the odd window in Joan’s assigned room and the diamond like window placements in the court area. These details combined with Joan’s strong eye contact create a surreal feel of anxiety and serenity. The montage scene towards the end is fitting when juxtaposed with the shots of Joan burning.
The pacing of the film I believe is the weakest part of the film. Although this is as well executed as you can get for a silent film, there are still flaws with lack of voices. These are remedied with the Voices of Light soundtrack developed by Richard Einhorn. The music is not necessary, but it helps out with the visual fatigue of watching a movie that taxing.
Besides that minor flaw this film is a gem that shockingly feels extremely modern. Contemporary styles and approaches which you would not think would be in a silent film are executed extremely well. Specific scenes like the church official spinning the torture wheel and it getting faster and faster compliments the already hypnotic expressions on Joan’s face. These are minor details, but when put together effortlessly a great film becomes a classic.
February 10th, 2015 at 11:18 am
The Passion of Joan of Arch film was a film that was very different to me. As I seen many different silent films, When I saw this film, I was just surprised at all the different types of expressionism and the camera movements as well. With the story itself, I say this film is the best representation of the actual trial itself, making it seem like if the directors went back in time to this trial and filmed the whole trial back when it happened.
The camera techniques used in this film was very natural at all. I felt that all the closeups on the judges faces was a little too close to my taste, making me want to sometimes close my eyes because of how ugly they looked. I’m pretty sure this was done intentionally to make the viewer uncomfortable while watching this film, as you mentioned in your essay, Mr.Smith. Though the close ups on Joan of Arch also seemed to make me feel uncomfortable as well because of her blank stare, making it seem like she was possessed by someone, maybe God himself, but we will never know.
For the score in this film, it’s phenomenal. It matches up with what’s going on in every scene, giving the film even more emotion. When you see Joan of Arch in the torture room, the music seemed to be speeding up, like how the man turning that spike wheel was going faster as well. The Voices of Light music used in the film is what I consider the best composition for the film itself, even if I hadn’t heard the Blu-Ray version composition; I still say Voices of Light fits the movie perfectly with making you feel emotional for what Joan of Arch was feeling while being yelled at by those judges.
Overall, I find this movie just perfect in all ways. The performances given by all the actors, all the crazy camera techniques, and all the expressionism helped this film be amazing, one of the best silent films of all time in my opinion.
February 10th, 2015 at 11:36 am
In class, it was mentioned that all these award-winning, seemingly innovative films today will all be forgotten in 87 years. Passion of Joan of Arc has been and will continue to be in the top lists of best international ever made. Why has this film survived time? Why does it seem like it could very well be a documentary from the 1500s or have been an indie film made just last year? I got my answer reading this essay on the film.
Before “talkies” came into existence and put up “walls” that separated viewers from one another through language, silent films were allowed to permeate throughout the world because of their lack of spoken word. It’s precisely as Roger Ebert referred to it, as the “tower of babel”. Spoken languages have made it impossible to really speak to a world-wide audience as movies did in the past. Sure movies may be subbed, but then I’m reading subtitles, not giving my full attention where they should be – on the characters. Movies can also rerecord another language, but dubbing is never as good as the original because languages are so different that mistranslating one word could give the viewer an entirely different meaning or nuance, and personally it takes me out the experience I want when watching a movie.
I also am reminded of another film that has made it on top throughout the decades, Citizen Kane. While watching Joan of arc, I noticed similarities between both of these: the claustrophobic set design (the showing of the ceiling of a room); the use of variety in camera angles and time to depict what a charcter is going through in their mind; and using different styles of cinema that are still used today.
Most films can only be judged by the standards of the time in which they were made, and unfortunately (or fortunately) will be forgotten in the years to come. The passion of Joan of Arc was luckily made in an era that brought people from far and wide together, thus allowing a collaboration of many ideas and points of view. This allowed for a wider audience to appreciate the truly magnificent art that was created. I am reminded of why Cerax refused his foreign film award. Today we do separate ourselves from the genius of others just because of language that is spoken and we don’t critique or view it equally to our great “American” fims. I wonder if we go back to silent films, could these barriers be broken? Could we achieve something that has seldom been done and reunite the great artists of the world to make masterpeices once again? Passion of Joan of arc has done something so rarely seen today because of these divisions and has clearly transcended time itself.
February 10th, 2015 at 12:16 pm
Even though this movie was really old i appreciated the way it was produced and directed, giving me a new perspective on the way films were made in the old days. The expressionism i saw in the movie reminded me of the old Charlie Chaplin type of films. To be truthfully honest i don’t really like silent movies, but the way the actor Renee Falconetti portrayed her emotions was outstanding and got me really into the movie. The movie mostly focused on the expressionistic style of a murder scene and the process back in the 1500’s. Overall i thought the movie was good, but i hope we don’t watch anymore silent films in this class because to be honest i almost fell asleep. I need SOUND!
February 10th, 2015 at 12:56 pm
Well, there was sound. There was a powerful orchestral/choral score that I played at a loud volume. The fact that you “almost fell asleep” reveals nothing about the movie, only something about your shortcomings as a viewer. 6/10
February 10th, 2015 at 12:23 pm
I thought that “The passion of Joan of Arc” was a very empowering film to watch. I think that on every level that a silent film can hit emotionally, it did. This film showed me that words are not needed in order to explain what one is going through at that specific time, I think Joan’s face showed us every single emotion possible throughout the movie. I also learned that there are many hidden messages within the movie that touch basis with biblical stories and I thought thag the director did that quite well.
February 10th, 2015 at 12:59 pm
Jack, your comments here are insubstantial. What exactly were the “hidden messages” within the movie that connected to “biblical stories”? I also can’t tell from your remarks what you learned from my lecture or the reading. 7/10
February 10th, 2015 at 12:55 pm
I really enjoyed both your review and the movie the passion of joan of arc. It really interested me to know how the passion of joan of arc among other silent era of films were greatly influenced through the cross pollination of directors from various countries. I liked how the movie review gave insight on what kind of impressionism and expressionism was used throughout the film. I also liked how the review compared the passion of joan of arc to citizen kane in the sense of historical relevance to the cinema that had preceded it of their respective time periods. What really struck me about the movie was the way Dryer focused so much on the individual facial expressions and not so much on the set. Overall i agree i thought it was a fantastic film and i now understand why this film will withstand the test of time.
February 10th, 2015 at 1:34 pm
The passion of Joan, was a very different experience for me. I never saw a silent movie with subtitles first timer! I liked this movie just because it impacted me I was touched with this movie, I will take this with me for the rest of my life as a Christian. Joan did a great job her facial expression made me feel like I was really in the movie watching her cry. You must have a heart to watch her burn at the end of the movie it was kinda devastating I felt like jumping into the film and doing my best to help! Obviously impossible. Watching this film made me realize silent films aren’t so bad and now looking foward to watching more silent films.
February 10th, 2015 at 1:34 pm
The Passion of Joan of Arch was an intensely beautiful film with a fantastic soundtrack. I feel like you are unable to place this film in a certain category of film making for German expressionism, Soviet Montage and a little french impressionism.This film was quite different when it was made and it is to this day still quite different.
The editing and style of this film is very close and rapid. The camera is zoomed in extremely close to the characters faces, trying to capture the essence of what they are feeling and externalize it. Which is very french impressionism. I was slightly annoyed when they zoomed in or showed Joan’s face for I didn’t get anything thing from her acting. The angle of the camera and how close it was showed very little emotion. Her face was very blank and her eyes were very glossy and far away. I mention this in class that it bothered me. The discussion we had about it sort of changed my mind as people said she look possessed and euphoric as if the spirit of god filled her with a sense of wonder.
The rapid close up shots of the characters is very soviet montage editing because they are very quick snapshots of everyone’s face then it quickly cuts to a different person.
The background that was used for this film is very elaborate, very styled mise-en-scene, which is very German Expressionism. The viewer doesn’t get to see that background that much because all of the shots are close up. The only time you can see the set is when part of it is behind someones head and during the scene where everyone is gather outside to see Joan’s execution.
The Passion of Joan of Arch was a great film (even though Joan annoys me). This unique film fits certain aspects of French Impressionism, with its close shots of peoples face, German Expressionism, elaborate background/ set, and Soviet Montage, rapid shots of angry people.
February 10th, 2015 at 1:38 pm
The Passion of Joan of Arc was by far the most empowering and breathtaking silent film that I have ever watched. From the very beginning, I was drawn into the film, because of the up close and personal filming techniques used by Mr. Carl Dreyer. There were many instances during the movie, when I wanted to jump into the screen and stand by Joan’s side. The pain felt by Joan is expressed through her facial expressions without her uttering a single word. If that’s not powerful acting, I don’t know what is?
The technique known as French Impressionism is used to convey the feelings of empathy for Joan because of the psychological aspects of how the actors expressed themselves. During the trial, the camera pans around the courtroom and focuses on the faces of the judges, clergymen and Joan. In the first minute or so in the courtroom, there is obvious disdain felt by the judges towards Joan. The way that the judges cringe at the sight of Joan and ridicule her every thought and idea allowed me to empathize with her. The feelings of empathy towards Joan were felt because of the facial expressions of fear, sadness and worry emitted by actress Renee Falconetti in her role as Joan of Arc. She knew that standing up for what she believed in would cause her a great deal of pain and suffering, but Joan was willing to suffer for the love of her one true God. The purity of Joan shines through in her darkest hour, because of her trust in God and what her mission is. The way Joan looks up and seems to be mesmerized by something other than what is going on in the courtroom, is clearly implying that she fully believed in God’s will for her to carry out his message.
The lack of makeup and simple clothing was an effective way to help make The Passion of Joan of Arc more relatable to the viewer. When films use too much makeup, the actors and actresses seem to look unrealistic and perfect. Carl Dryer chose to omit makeup from the film, which is a result of his interest in German Expressionism. The idea behind the lack of makeup and simplicity of the clothing reflects the historical aspect of the 1400’s, because of the war between France and English in The Hundred Years War. Another noticeable aspect of German Expressionism is the crooked windows and rather somber looking scenery. The odd or misshapen set led me to believe that the whole trial was a mistake and Joan was actually innocent, according to Dryer.
I agree with your statement in lecture regarding the Passion of Joan of Arc being a modern looking film, that will still be considered a masterpiece 80 years from today. The film has so much power and the up close and personal feel of the movie convinced me of Joan’s “Divine Inspiration”. Whether or not the moviegoers see themselves as religious or not, there is no doubt in my mind that Carl Dryer succeeded in convincing the audience of Joan’s innocence and complete trust in God.
The Passion of Joan of Arc had many desirable aspects that help to get the message of the film across to the viewer. I can appreciate the brilliance of Carl Dryer’s filming techniques and concepts, despite my illiteracy in the technicalities of filmmaking. However, I feel like I am becoming more knowledgeable on the cinematic and design aspect of creating a masterpiece such as The Passion of Joan of Arc. Overall, I enjoyed the movie very much and relate to the struggle that Joan went through. The film conveyed the message that you should not denounce your beliefs and ideas, even when faced with adversity.
February 10th, 2015 at 2:00 pm
I agree completely that The Passion of Joan Arc, by Carl Th. Dreyer is a masterpiece, and a timeless film. Its unique style makes the film seem very modern, in that, captivating all audiences. The film being silent, I believe, was an attribute because it depicted and showed everything that was meant to be portrayed through pronounced filming techniques.
The play of shadows, and dark and light contrast throughout the film, showed its German Expressionist aspects. Dramatic scenes would have darkness and alarming music. I’d also like to point out the camera use. A close up of Joan’s face appeared a plentiful amount of times on the screen. The fact, that with these close ups the director could show so much emotion and the importance of what was happening was incredible. I’d also like to point out the lack of makeup on Joan as well as every one else in the film. I think this provided the film with a very realistic approach and overall helped make it a “chef-d’oeuvre”.
February 10th, 2015 at 2:08 pm
I agree with you that this movie is one of the best silent era films due to the fact that after watching this movie I felt that this was a modern film production. I would have never thought that a movie that is that old would keep my attention and make me care for what is happening behind the screen. This movie was so well made that it takes out the appearance of being made in any one country. This allowed me the ability to immerse myself in the story and feel like I am currently in the courtroom watching the events unfold. When I think of a global movie I would have never thought of the films that we are watching in class. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc has showed me that a movie can be great no matter how it has been made as long as it invokes passion and thought into the viewer. This movie has done just that, it made up for no sound for the great music that allows you to follow the ups and downs of the whole movie. Everything about this movie was great especially the very close shots on the “actors”, I put actors in quotes because not once did I think of them as actors but as the people they were portraying.
I feel one of the best parts of the movie was that is was made up of close ups almost for the whole movie. This allowed me to truly feel what every person was feeling and the tension between the people. In class you said that most of the movie was in close up and we only get a few shots of the background. I feel that this was great at showing how cramped the whole space was and how all the emotions were contained in one room. I am a visual person and so this art form worked perfectly for me because it allowed me to see through everyone’s eyes and get a better perspective on all of the tension in the scene. This art form was new at the time and so it would be called revolutionary then, but today I believe this is what helps keep this movie so popular today. It ensures that the viewer keeps a strong connection to the people and can feel the tension in the room and be immersed in the entire film.
February 10th, 2015 at 2:38 pm
The Passion of Joan of Arc is probably the best film to introduce someome to the silent film era. The way Dreyer combines French Impresionism and German expressionism with Soviet montage techniques, shows his ability to create a film like never before, a true masterpiece.
When I first heard that we were watching a silent film, I immediately thought of Charlie Chaplin or the original Godzilla movie, because those movies were the only silent movies I saw. But when you said the Passion of Joan of Joan of Arc, and said that it was a drama, I wasn’t to excited to watch the movie. I didn’t know how a good drama movie could be made in silence. But while watching the movie, I felt constantly intrigued and at no point did it seem boring like I thought it would be. The use of constant extreme close ups, especially the ones that showed Joan’s face in anguish almost made me feel uncomfortable. Even though there was no dialogue to hear, the actors made everything feel so real by putting on a great performance. The think that this was the, or one of the first movies to use so many extreme close ups, must have been a pretty bold move for Dreyer because whenever you try something new you don’t know how people are going to react, and when Dreyer came up with so many innovations in this film, you would think that the people of that time wouldn’t unders it and therefore not like the film, like what happened with Citizen Kane. But the people did love the movie and Dreyer was a success.
What quite confused me was why Dreyer spent so much money on making a huge set but barely showed it. Although it might have been a waste of money he still made a great film. Maybe at first he didn’t think he would use so many extreme close ups.
February 10th, 2015 at 2:42 pm
I understand that this film was made with an objective to express the three main elements of European film-making at its time, French impressionism, German expressionism and Soviet montage. However I feel that it succeeded in French impressionism and Soviet montage, but failed in showing enough German expressionism. The extensive close ups and minimalist yet abstract camera movements were excellent in every way throughout the movie and therefore did a terrific job of including French impressionism. Also at the time of Joan’s execution in the movie, the riot montage of the circus performers, citizens, and English guards couldn’t have done a better job of adding the element of Soviet montage. When it comes to the German expressionism part of the film I feel Carl Dreyer really snubbed the element. The church setting (which most of the film took place inside) was white and lacked the painted shadows that you would see in most other German expressionist films. Also the abstract drawing of the winged lion-like creature on the wall was an extremely sorry excuse for an aspect of German expressionism; it looked like a five year old was told he could draw whatever he wanted on the wall. Overall, I would say this is a great movie, German expressionism or not, I thoroughly enjoyed it with Maria Falconetti’s performance being one of my highlights.
February 10th, 2015 at 3:00 pm
This is a really great silent movie which I have ever seen. This movie shows how person is killed by the judges because the person was doing a good work. It was a excellent movie. It shows how was the life of the people in olden days. I think everybody should watch this movie.
February 10th, 2015 at 3:00 pm
Way too short and insubstantial. 5/10