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The Passion of Joan of Arc (La passion de Jeanne d’Arc)

by on August 20th, 2012
The Passion of Joan of Arc (La passion de Jeanne d’Arc) Cover Image

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is at once terrifying and beautiful. Critics have pointed out that one could pause the film at any frame and find herself staring at a work of art.
The film has had a rocky journey to modern audiences. The original print was lost to fire shortly after its premiere, and though Dreyer attempted to recut the film from outtakes, the filmmakers believed the original cut to be lost. Then, the second negative was lost to yet another fire. Over the decades, many corrupted versions of the film were circulated, but none quite the same as the original. In a stranger than fiction turn of events, a nearly complete print of the Danish version of the film was discovered in 1981 in the janitor’s closet of a mental institution in Oslo, Norway. This print was restored, and the Criterion Collection version we have today is believed to be very close to the filmmakers’ intended vision.
The film tells the story of Joan of Arc after she’s captured by the British, and subsequently interrogated and tortured. The story is told through close ups of faces, and high contrast photography creates a dark, disturbing mood. As one blogger notes, “the 180 degree rule is not just broken, but flung down and danced upon. The result is disorienting and a little exhausting.”
Though this was Renee Maria Falconetti’s only prominent film role, she definitely left her mark; she plays Joan with a passion and grace that have been called “the finest performance ever recorded on film.”
A discussion of the film must also mention the wonderful score that Criterion has included with their DVD version. It is Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light,” an original opera inspired by the film. It compliments the intensity of Dreyer’s images beautifully, and enhances the viewer’s experience.
Personally, I recommend watching it on the largest screen possible with the volume set to loud. It’s the kind of film that washes over you. If you like films that are beautiful, full of emotion, and guaranteed to make you think, then this is one you can’t miss.

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