The Passion of Joan of Arc ★★★★★

I watched this twice, back to back. Once with sound, once without. Both times I was gobsmacked by what was laid out before me on screen. Watching this film feels like having the weight of our history looking over your shoulder with you. It is teeming with historical framing and importance, regarding both its shape and content.

Completely ignoring historical context Dreyer’s film opts to relate Joan of Arc’s story by focussing on her trial and execution and the suffering that went along with it. No sweeping shots of her military victories, no familiar backdrop, it assumes that its audience knows who we’re dealing with here and chooses to focus on her last days and how she suffered through them.

The narrative is engrossing in its exploration of a woman’s struggle in a male dominated society and its conflict between religion and politics. The trial that was over before it started is a badgering of Joan in which her dressing up as a man to lead her troops is treated with contempt and disdain, a prime example of the insecure power of the male ego. This punishing because of a fear of and disregard for equality is captured in harrowing honesty. I found the conflict between political choices fuelled by religious motives to be an interesting tension, enriching the story. The fact that Joan can never be found innocent because that would mean God’s not on the side of the British is a prime example of those in power using religion as a political weapon. Juxtaposed to this is the purity of Joan’s beliefs. This dichotomy works really well, adding yet another powerful layer to the narrative, treating the power of belief with the greatest respect.

Visually this was not what I expected at all. No establishing shots, but mainly close ups, make this film an intimate observation of its subjects. The way Dreyer captures and paints his scenes is miles ahead of its time, making it a truly unique piece of art. The reason I wanted to watch this without sound again (the score is stunning by the way) was to see if Dreyer’s exceptional framing would lose any of its impact. If anything it enhances it, allowing the viewer to find something within the compositions, much like gazing at a painting can make you find meaning somewhere. Staring at Falconetti’s face intensely is a haunting experience. This will end up being one of my favourite performances by anyone ever. The power and conviction of her wordless tour de force packs a resonating punch.

La Passion de Jean d’Arc is an important film on just about every level imaginable and, far more importantly, it is a spiritual piece of art that has a powerful beauty to it.

Unmissable. 

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