The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc ★★★★½

We're all on board calling this the spiritual forefather to torture porn, right? I mean, that's exactly what happens here. We get a young woman out of her element first emotionally tortured by countless questions which belittle her faith and then, when that doesn't work, trickery which preys on her lack of education, and then actual torture, and then even more emotional torture with the hair cutting and finally, burning at the stake. This is some serious shit. Carl Theodore Dryer doesn't flinch away from showing some of the human brutality that can be wrought from a conflict of religious ideas and the scene in the torture dungeon with the spinning wheel-o-spikes and the divots cut into the floor stained with blood show that these clergy members aren't shy about inflicting pain. Nor does he cut away nearly as much as I expected him to in the final fiery scene. This may be 1928, but it doesn't feel like many punches are being pulled.

And, of course, there's the reason why this film is so well respected: Maria Falconetti's world beating performance. Filmed almost entirely in close-ups, she is put through the wringer in every sense imaginable and is still able to retain her faith. As long as the film felt for its hour and a half length, I never really tired of seeing her face. She is humanity personified. Her incredulity turns into resigned defeat as she continues to be tortured. Her eyes almost never fully clear of the tears her intense sadness brings to them and when she finally allows the tears to fall it is at once beautiful and heartbreaking. It is a wonderful performance that could have been better served by a tighter film. There are too many (well executed) scenes which explain through the use of wordy intertitles things that are pretty obvious on screen. Nothing here is poorly done, it's just a little too slowly paced for my liking. Still, if that's the only flaw it must be a pretty darn good film, and it certainly is.