TSPDT Greatest Films #20 La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1928)
I often get questions like: What is the best film of all-time? or What are the true cinematic masterpieces? Well, most of the times we hear Citizen Kane, Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bicycle Thieves, La règle du jeu, Seven Samurai, etc. Most of the time the silent masterpieces are forgotten. Maybe because these films are older or harder to find, but of all the masterpieces of the seventh art La passion de Jeanne d'Arc is a one of a kind film! Brilliantly revisited by Robert Bresson in 1962, the 1928 version is still deeper and even more metaphysical.
The story depicted in La passion de Jeanne d'Arc is represented by the messianic figure of Maria Falconetti from the trial of Joan of Arc to her tragic death on the stake. Shot entirely in close-ups by Dreyer who wanted to catch only the dramatic expressions from the face of his heroine. Other elements are out of focus and the sets are there to be backgrounds of the "mise-en-scène". The mise-en-chot became famous but never really used after because of the uncommon way and also because i could annoy the spectator the get all this intensity all along the film. I read somewhere that the sets used to shot this film was very expensive and all the Antiques were bought at high costs. To be only used out of focus...
Presented like that this film could sound very simple and maybe a little boring, the case is that La passion de Jeanne d'Arc is not that simple. It proposes that Joan of Arc was really a messianic figure while being made of flesh and blood. Also that purity and goodness can be found in any human being but also that we all can be executioners and victims. It reflects the time the movie was made: France won the War but suffered from the German attacks. The French nation have been victimized and executioners with the sentence imposed on Germany after World War I.
Carl Th. Dreyer is one of the most religious directors and most of his films are based on faith and the many representations we can find of. His films are austere but also purified the more simplistic. He used to take his actors like puppets and only allow them to move the way he intended them to move. Long shots and few if almost no editing caracterize his films. Those long shots seem like he tried to catch the perfect moment that could help him to catch the light of God. The slow action depicted in all his films feels like we are bewitched by the story and the imperceptible camera moves.
Far from being an easy film, La passion de Jeanne d'Arc is unique and crucial.
A review by Michaël Parent