“The close quarter combat between Joan and her judges” is how Carl Theodor Dreyer described his vision of the film. It is set in a claustrophobic space in which we feel one with the Maid of Orleans. We also get caught up in the terror her face registers in the flurry of close-ups; her tremulous face intercut with the physiognomy of her oppressors, flat and unintelligent faces remind one of Hieronymous Bosch. ‘Christ mocked’ and ‘Christ wearing a crown of thorns ’ for example. Much has been made of the film’s unusual number of close-ups; Dreyer uses the device to drag the viewer into the psyche of the subject. Maria Falconetti’s face, with its strange luminousness and mournful looks, present an ideal map for an unequal combat the evil clerics at the behest of the English wage on an emotional plane. Close-ups serve an ideal vehicle for that. The performance of Renee Maria Falconetti has been hailed as one of cinema’s greatest.
The minions who watch over the vulnerable in a prison are often noted for sadistic streak. When the tonsured tormentors pause for thinking up a fresh stratagem these oafs takeover in subjecting her to indignities. One such insult is platting of a crown on the maid’s head and the intended comparison to the Son of Man is very telling. The Church with its unlimited power shall always crucify the one who could bring salvation. The maid of Orleans was Christlike in wanting to rid the land of foreign occupation and she must die in ignominy. Perhaps we need to put this film in historical perspective: Joan of Arc was canonized by the Catholic Church only some seven years earlier.The movie is in a way vindication of the untutored heroine who dared to do the impossible purely on the strength of her inner calling.
The film like the maid had a checquered career. French nationalists objected to the idea of a Dane, and a non-Catholic one at that, interpreting the history of their beloved Joan. After its release, English censors objected to what it saw as unacceptably negative portrayals of the English forces who were partly responsible — in alliance with the corrupt French church — for the death of Joan. The Archbishop of Paris’s demand for changes was only the beginning of a series of mutilations. In 1933, the film, which failed at the box office in spite of many glowing reviews, resurfaced in a truncated version (82 minutes cut to 61)
In a surprise discovery that parallels Joan’s resurrection (as a historical hero) and rehabilitation in the pantheon of French heroes along with Foch,Napoleon and deGaulle, a complete original print of Dreyer’s original cut was found in a Norwegian mental hospital closet in 1981. The print had apparently been ordered by a doctor there in the 1930s. This version, called the “Oslo print” to distinguish it from its many predecessors, had some damage but was digitally restored to pristine condition with 20,320 individual changes.
Dreyer drew almost entirely on transcripts of Joan’s 1429 trial for his dialogue. If Dreyer disliked being labeled “avant garde,” he did agree with “documentary” as a description. The film supports this in many respects. Dreyer’s demand for realism dictated some bizarre strategies. Perhaps the experience was too much for Mlle. Falconetti that she never again acted in another film. The actors were signed exclusively to him for the film’s shooting time from May to November 1927, so they had to “live” their roles to the point of keeping their hair cut so it never appeared to change. This was understandable for the lower churchmen who wore visible tonsures — bald heads with a fringe of hair. But Dreyer also demanded that the higher officials keep their tonsures cut, in spite of the fact that their hair was invisible under the grandiose caps they wore throughout. The cast occasionally got back at him, at least verbally. They secretly began referring to him as “Gruyere” because the set had as many “holes” (trenches Dreyer built for making low-angle shots) as Swiss cheese.
He refused to allow his actors to use makeup, an unheard-of demand at that time. He even dropped the credits — they were later restored — in order to increase the viewer’s belief in the story. He also disavowed musical scores (though the film was presented with them) as distracting and antithetical to the reality of the onscreen world.
But the thrust of the film is the power of spiritual opposition to earthly ambition and corruption, a theme so pervasive and felt that even the architecture supports it. Joan is seen mostly in isolated shots, emblems of her lonely battle against the church and the military, but behind her the viewer is always aware of the serene, almost glowing white walls, a constant reminder of Joan’s purity and transcendence in the face of corrupt earthly forces.
Dreyer would go on to create at least three classics of world cinema (Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertrud), but in some ways this is his most radical film. he saw as above all a human document. It’s hard to think of a better term, however, for the film’s visual style. There’s the famous use (some said over-use) of close-ups; surprising images such as the “upside-down and backward” shot of English soldiers; and the swinging camera that makes a building appear to be moving.
The startled flight of pigeons from the Church spires as Joan is being burnt may be a cliché now but then it must have come as very refreshingly new.
The film’s realism — helped immeasurably by Rudolph Mate’s brilliant cinematography — it’s also one of the most stylized, unrealistic in the annals of cinema. Production designer Hermann Warm, famous for his expressionist sets for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, based his work here on a combination of medieval woodcuts and the then-voguish surrealist movement. This is seen in the otherworldly white architecture that recalls the still, strange world of the painter De Chirico.
Dreyer as mentioned before was always known as a controlling, dictatorial director, and with a then-vast budget of $7 million francs (which bloated to $9 million by the end of shooting), he was allowed some luxuries that few filmmakers would see, before or since. He had an enormous, expensive three-dimensional set built, almost none of which is seen in recognizable form in the movie (much to the producers’ chagrin). He shot reams of film, which unexpectedly paid off later when he was forced to construct a new negative out of the ample supply of alternate takes. The film’s over 1,300 individual shots is more than twice the number found in an average feature of the time.
Scenes from Passion appear in Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa Vie (1962), in which the protagonist Nana sees the film at a cinema and identifies with Joan. In Henry & June, Henry Miller is shown watching the last scenes of the film and in voiceover narrates a letter to Anaïs Nin comparing her to Joan and himself to the “mad monk” character played by Antonin Artaud.
The Passion of Joan of Arc has appeared on Sight & Sound’s top ten films poll three times:
* 1952: #7
* 1972: #7
* 1992: #10 (Critic’s List)and #6 (Director’s List)
It placed 31st in the 2002 Director’s poll and 14th on the Critic’s poll. Maria Falconetti’s performance was named the 26th greatest ever on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.
Juge(judge): How old are you?
Jeanne d’Arc: [counts on her fingers] Nineteen… I think.
Juge: What is your name?
Jeanne d’Arc: In France, I am called Joan… in my village, I am called Jeanneton.
Jeanne d’Arc: [talking to God] Will I be with You tonight in Paradise?
Juge: Has God promised you things?
Jeanne d’Arc: That has nothing to do with this trial!
Maria Falconetti … Jeanne d’Arc
Eugene Silvain … Évêque Pierre Cauchon (Bishop Pierre Cauchon)
André Berley … Jean d’Estivet
Maurice Schutz … Nicolas Loyseleur
Antonin Artaud … Jean Massieu
Michel Simon … Jean Lemaître
Jean d’Yd … Guillaume Evrard
Louis Ravet … Jean Beaupère (as Ravet)
Armand Lurville … Juge (Judge) (as André Lurville)
Jacques Arnna … Juge (Judge)
Alexandre Mihalesco … Juge (Judge)
Léon Larive … Juge (Judge)
* After completing the original cut of the film, director Carl Theodor Dreyer learned that the entire master print had been accidentally destroyed. With no ability to re-shoot, Dreyer re-edited the entire film from footage he had originally rejected.
* Real blood from a real puncture wound was used in the scene in which Joan’s arm is cut, but it was that of a stand-in and not Maria Falconetti.
* The film took a year and a half to complete.
Ack: http://www.brightlights.com Gary Morris,January 2000 | Issue 27,wikipedia,imdb.com
My special thanks go to Maid Marian classic films for letting me watch the film(with French subtitles). Share the experience and support http://www.youtube.com/maidmarian.