THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928) B/W "silent" 90m dir: Carl Dreyer
w/Marie Falconetti, Eugene Sylvain, Andre Berley, Antonin Artaud, Michel Simon, Maurice Schultz, Louis Ravet, Jean d'Yd
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films: "The trial of Joan of Arc (Falconetti) and her death at the stake. The script was derived from Joseph Delteil's novel about Joan of Arc but Dreyer used little material from the actual story and Delteil was only credited as co-scenarist for publicity reasons. In fact the largest part of the screenplay was taken from the authentic records of the trial. Actual shooting lasted from May to October 1927 and chronologically followed the sequence of the trial, the death sentence, and Joan's execution. The trial and execution are concentrated into one day from the eighteen months actually involved. Dreyer's approach in this respect is similar to the methods of Kammerspeil by which he had been earlier influenced on Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife .....
"When Dreyer arrived in Paris he announced that Jeanne d'Arc was to be a sound film. Lack of equipment forced him to abandon this but he nevertheless had his actors speak their lines. While shooting was still in progress he said: 'It is necessary to give the public the true impression of watching life through a keyhole in the screen ... I am searching for nothing but life. Only when the film is finished does one know if one has found it. The director is nothing, life is everything and is the real director. It is the objective drama of the spirit that is important, not the objective drama of the images.' (September 9, 1927 Cinemagazine). The enormous sets, designed by Hermann Warm, were built on a piece of land between Montrouge and Petit-Clamart in Paris. The stark 'white' walls were painted pink to make them more photogenic. Dreyer chose Marie Falconetti for the title role though nothing in her career seemed to indicate she could handle it. She had never appeared in films (and never did again) and was most well known for her performance in Miche with Andre Brule at the Theatre de la Madeleine.
"Valentine Hugo has described Dreyer's methods on the set: 'At all times we suffered the enveloping sense of horror, of an iniquitous trial, of an eternal judicial error ... I saw the most mistrustful actors, carried away by the will and faith of the director, unconsciously continuing to play their roles after the cameras had stopped. A judge, after a scene in which he appeared moved by Joan's suffering, mumbling, "At heart she's a witch!" he was living the drama as though it were real. Another, boiling with rage, hurls a string of invectives at the accused and finally interjects this apostrophe: "You are a disgrace to the Army!" ... (It was) particularly moving the day when Falconetti's hair was cropped close to her skull in the wan light of the execution morning and in the total silence on the set. We were as touched as if the mark of infamy were truly being applied and we were in the grip of ancient prejudices. The electricians, the mechanics held their breaths and their eyes were full of tears.' Falconetti herself cried. 'Then the director slowly walked towards the heroine, caught some of her tears on his finger and touched them to his lips.' (Cine-Miroir, November 11, 1927).
"The film is in three parts: the first uses the moving camera to a large extent to introduce the judges and describe the tribunal hall and the setting up of the tribunal. The second part, which depicts the trial itself, the death sentence, and the preparation of the torture, is handled almost entirely in close-ups or extreme close-ups. Objects take on more significance than the white walls of the set and the cutting and intertitles render the rare camera movements almost invisible. The third part, Joan's exit from prison and march through the crowds in the market place to the stake, is full of many audacious camera movements.
"Moussinac has noted that 'Dreyer made maximum use of close-ups and all the expressive possibilities of camera angles. His refusal to use make-up gives the faces a strange and terrible force, allowing them to express internal feelings and thoughts with a singular power. All the fingerprint techniques in the world identify less from the outside than such a facial detail reveals from the interior only be means of a close-up of a mouth, and [sic] eye, or a wrinkle.'
"Since 1928, Jeanne d'Arc has been hailed as a masterpiece and in 1958 was voted among the Twelve Best Films of All Time. Jean Cocteau wrote that, 'Potemkin imitated a documentary and threw us into confusion. Jeanne d'Arc seems like a historical document from an era in which the cinema didn't exist.' The reference to Eisenstein is pertinent, since Dreyer has often said he was influenced by him.
"Moussinac pinpointed the film's significance. 'Dreyer wanted to convey only the profound human meaning of the trial and death of the Maid. The pervasive sense of realism and the sharp power of the images emphasize this, though it is also to be found in the implacable unfolding of the story and in the poor, noble, and inspired girl in the all-powerful grip of the judges. The tribunal has a symbolic significance ... Its Hypocrisy and contemptible actions are its own accusers, even if one has the impression not of taking part in a trial carefully set in its own time but, beyond a conventional era, in a drama the likes of which might be found in many more obscure examples in the history of class warfare.'
"Jeanne d'Arc was originally released in France in a version censored by the Catholic Church. It was also banned in all the Nazi-occupied countries between 1940-44."
From Dreyer in Double Reflection, a translation of Dreyer's writings edited by Donald Skoller:
Skoller introduces Dreyer's comments about the film: "This short statement, written at the time of the first release of The Passion of Joan of Arc, contains references to a number of pure "Dreyerisms." Falconetti played Joan for Dreyer by day and in the evening returned to her more usual performances in light, boulevard comedy. But depriving her of makeup, providing her with the full environment of the trial settings, and then developing her characterization rigorously and systematically resulted in one of the most memorable of all screen experiences. It is important to begin to qualify the popular impression of Dreyer as a mystic with the very canny, down-to-earth ways in which he went about representing the events giving rise to this reputation. Dreyer's unique achievement is poetic realization of the religious experience without detracting from its vitality or grandeur or reducing it to a scientific formula. Without recognition of Dreyer's own awareness of the special nature of 'realized mysticism,' the viewer may fall back on stock assumptions bearing in only the most general way upon the themes and issues Dreyer is treating. This is the specific problem many audiences have with the last five great films by Dreyer, especially Ordet, in which a heroine is brought back to life in broad daylight before our very eyes."
From the same book, Dreyer writes about JOAN: "The virgin of Orleans and those matters that surrounded her death began to interest me when the shepherd girl's canonization in 1920 ... once again drew the attention of the public-at-large to the events and actions involving her --- and not only in France. In addition to Bernard Shaw's ironical play, Anatole France's learned thesis aroused great interest, too. The more familiar I became with the historical material, the more anxious I became to attempt to re-create the most important periods of the virgin's life in the form of a film.
"Even beforehand, I was aware that this project made specific demands. Handling the theme on the level of a costume film would probably have permitted a portrayal of the cultural epoch of the fifteenth century, but would have merely resulted in a comparison with other epochs. What counted was getting the spectator absorbed in the past; the means were multifarious and new.
"A thorough study of the documents from the rehabilitation process was necessary; I did not study the clothes of the time, and things like that. The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present. I wanted to interpret a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life. What streams out to the possibly moved spectator in strange close-ups is not accidentally chosen. All these pictures express the character of the person they show and the spirit of that time. In order to give the truth, I dispensed with 'beautification.' My actors were not allowed to touch makeup and powder puffs. I also broke with the traditions of constructing a set. Right from the beginning of shooting, I let the scene architects build all the sets and make all the other preparations, and from the first to the last scene everything was shot in the right order. Rudolph Mate, who manned the camera, understood the demands of psychological drama in the close-ups and he gave me what I wanted, my feeling and my thought: realized mysticism.
"But in Falconetti, who plays Joan, I found what I might, with very bold expression, allow myself to call, 'the martyr's reincarnation.'"