Passion of Joan of Arc
Silent cinema at its most sublimely expressive, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterpiece is an austere but hugely affecting dramatisation of the trial of St Joan.
“La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is an intense description of the suffering of an individual, the drama of a soul transformed into images.”
Ib Monty, International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1990
Released as talking pictures were already taking over, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first film in France – the Danish master had previously worked in Scandinavia and Germany – is a remarkably distilled and refined example of silent storytelling. Based on the record of the 15th-century trial and execution of Joan of Arc, the film focuses on an extraordinarily concentrated central performance from Renée Falconetti, allegedly the result of merciless needling from Dreyer during the filming.
Famous for its spare visual style, Dreyer’s film creates compelling drama from its looming facial close-ups, interspersing the plaintive Joan with the penetrating gazes of her zealous inquisitors. Watching the flickers of anguish and resolve across Falconetti’s features, registered in stark detail by Rudolph Maté’s cinematography, is one of cinema’s most purely moving experiences.
Jean-Luc Godard paid tribute to Dreyer in Vivre sa vie (1962), in which Anna Karina’s character is moved to tears viewing this silent classic.