Passion of Joan of Arc, The (1928): Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Masterpiece

The Passion of Joan of Arc (French title: La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc), Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent masterpiece, offers a visually stunning and emotionally touching record of the trial and execution of Joan of Arc.

Dreyer, working at the top of his form, made a crucial casting decision, choosing Renee Jeanne Falconetti for the title role.

Dreyer’s meticulous direction and Falconetti’s performance, one of the finest in film history, contribute to a memorable experience.

I am eternally grateful to the critic Andrew Sarris who exposed me to this landmark in one of his classes at Columbia University.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is considered to be one of the greatest art films ever made.

Invited to make a film in France by the Société Générale des Films, Danish director Dreyer chose as his subject Joan of Arc, a figure revered in French history and mythology.

Dreyer researching thoroughly the transcripts of her trial before writing the script. Dreyer cast stage Falconetti, then a stage actress, is mesmerizing in her only major film role.

The film was shot largely in close-ups by ace cinematographer Rudolph Mate on a huge concrete set modeled on medieval architecture to resemble the Rouen prison.

Reportedly, Dreyer didn’t allow the actors to wear make-up and used exaggerated lighting designs that deglamorized the actors, often making them look strange and grotesque–by design.

The film was controversial due to skepticism about whether a Danish artists could direct a film about one of France’s most revered historical icons.

Dreyer’s final version of the film was cut down due to pressures from clerical authorities and from government censors.

For decades it was released in various re-edited versions that had attempted to restore Dreyer’s final cut.

In 1981, a print of Dreyer’s final cut was discovered in a mental institution in Oslo, Norway.

The Passion of Joan D’Arc  was a critical success when first released in Denmark, April 21 1928, and later in Paris , October 25.

End Note:

Thanks to TCM, which showed the film on December 16, 2018, allowing me to revisit–actually experience–an indelible cinematic monument.