The Passion of Joan of Arc

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Danish filmmaker Carl Dreyer’s (Vampyre, Day of Wrath) remarkable depiction of the trial and execution of Joan of Arc (condensed for the sake of narrative from eighteen months to one day), was written largely from the actual records of the trial and based on historical evidence which had come to light in 1924, four years before the film was made. Often cited as an “austere masterpiece,” with reference to the starkness of Dreyer’s sets, his refusal to allow his actors to use makeup, and his use of extreme close-up photography, The Passion of Joan of Arc is also one of the most poignant, terrifying and unrelentingly emotional historical documents ever filmed. French stage actress Renée Falconetti, in her only film role, carved her name into cinema history by delivering what is widely considered to be one of the most powerful performances ever recorded on film. As the young maiden who died for God and France, Falconetti conveys Joan of Arc’s inner strength and religious devotion so intensely, primarily using only her hauntingly expressive eyes, that she seems to distill the entire history of silent film acting into one remarkably ecstatic performance.
Originally intending to make a sound film, Dreyer was forced by economic issues to abandon the idea and reconfigure his film as a silent production, surely one of the most fortuitous “accidents” in film history. For decades the film was thought to have been lost to fire, but the original version was miraculously found in perfect condition in 1981—in a Norwegian mental institution. This restored version of The Passion of Joan of Arc contains composer Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light,” an original opera/oratorio inspired by the film.