The Passion of Joan of Arc

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Passion of Joan of Arc at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Genre: Historical Drama
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Starring: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, André Berley, Maurice Schutz, Michel Simon
Rated: NR

I wrote about Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) a little over three years ago for a special showing presented by the now defunct Asheville Community Resource Center. Seeing the film again—with Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light oratorio/opera, which was inspired by the film, as accompaniment—I’m struck by what a very modern work this 80-year-old museum piece is. I still find it a film I more admire than actually like, but I’d never dispute its greatness or its amazing freshness.

What might have been an epic—and Dreyer had the sets for such, he just didn’t use them—is instead an intimate human and occasionally inhuman drama that concerns itself only with the trial and execution of Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti). Any grandeur that surrounds this event lies in the faces of the film’s characters and in the undeniable majesty of Dreyer’s use of the camera. For a film made up almost completely of close-ups, The Passion is astonishingly fluid. Dreyer’s camera is rarely still, but this never seems arbitrary. Rather it underscores the film’s attempts to understand what’s going on. The inability to settle seems to reflect both Dreyer’s probing and Joan’s own inability to grasp the why of it all. It’s brilliant and extremely unsettling—and unlike anything else in the history of film.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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One thought on “The Passion of Joan of Arc

  1. After having watched VAMPYR, I was compelled to watch more films by Carl Theodor Dreyer starting with THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. Now Dreyer is one of my top favorite filmmakers of all time, and PASSION is on my favorites list. What surprises me is that this was Renee Maria Falconetti’s only performance in cinema – and while it’s one of the greatest, it’s a shame that she was deprived of a chance to perform in future films (I’ll never get to hear how she sounded, but I can say this much – she was certainly beautiful and moving, especially when shaved and without makeup!)

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