DVD: The Passion of Joan of Arc | Film reviews, news & interviews
DVD: The Passion of Joan of Arc
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s almost unbearably moving evocation of the power of faith
How much suffering is it possible to take? Can suffering be depicted on film in a way which evokes its true depths? Is it possible to draw anything positive from a film that succeeds in capturing the essence of suffering? In short order: the human spirit can surprise; yes; yes. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc) is a film that still affects and has an ominous power, despite being silent, being made in 1928 and eschewing the overly demonstrative. It’s also strikingly timeless.
Dreyer has been celebrated this year and the opportunity to assess the films of this Danish director has confirmed both how special he is and the common themes running throughout his films, especially the role of women and the tension arising when strongly held faiths meet (both present here). Made in France, The Passion of Joan of Arc was released when Dreyer was at the end of a just-on 10-year run in which he completed nine films. It was followed in 1932 by Vampyr, and then in 1943 by Day of Wrath. He only made three more films. Drawing directly from the transcripts of the interrogation of Joan of Arc, the film employs a sparing visual style that most often frames faces. Prime amongst these is Maria Falconetti's Joan, who exudes an intensity and serenity which melds seamlessly with her obvious suffering. She cries, yet her countenance remains the same. She is about to be subjected to torture, yet moves unyieldingly when pushed. But still, her power is palpable. It’s deeply affecting and may have caused Antonin Artaud, who is in the cast, to wonder about his approach to theatre. Coming in the wake of World War One and Joan’s canonisation in 1920, Dreyer’s costumes for her keeper soldiers look influenced by Great War uniforms. That may not be deliberate, but as there is now, there must have been a contemporary resonance for The Passion of Joan of Arc.
This splendid release includes three versions. Go for the crisp 20fps version. Any subsequent viewing of the 24fps version is difficult, as its speediness jars. The 1950s French makeover is a curiosity. The packaging will no doubt be up to Eureka’s usual top-class standards. This hypnotic, moving film has to be seen.
Watch the trailer for The Passion of Joan of Arc
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