March 22, 2009
Netflix Criterion DVD
Silent (Optional “Voices Of Light” Musical Track)
82 Minutes
Biography / Drama / History
Carl Theodor Dreyer
#17 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

On her last day on Earth, Joan of Arc is subjected to five increasingly threatening interrogations before being burned alive at the stake.

Most of the reviews mention that this may be the best example of silent film acting ever committed to film. I wasn’t sure what they meant until I saw this movie. I now find myself wholeheartedly agreeing. Maria Falconetti has this big, round, expressive face with huge eyes. Somehow, in a silent film with French title cards, she conveys everything we need to know about a character. She can cry with the best of them. She is typically filmed looking up at someone or something. It’s hard to describe. I thought I’d be bored senseless, but my attention was captured as I watched it twice. And I don’t know too much about the actual story. I was watching more as an exercise in filmmaking back in the 20s. The commentary track will tell you that this film had substantially more edits than any other for its time. The torture scenes are scary, the burning stake scene seems pretty realistic, and we even see real life human bloodletting. The actors were told to be available for the entirety of the long shoot. No makeup was allowed. Maria’s hair was actually shaved–she’s really crying while it happens.

The fact that this film even exists is amazing. The master print was destroyed after shooting. The director then used alternate takes to complete the film. Banned immediately upon its release in several countries, it was thought lost to fire and decay decades ago. Then a pristine print appears in the closet of an insane asylum in Oslo. It is translated back to French and cleaned up by the geniuses at Criterion.

“Austerely moving drama, using close-ups to give intense scrutiny to Joan and her accusers, drawing in the audience to become involved in the action.” **** — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

“One of the greatest of all movies…Falconetti’s Joan may be the finest performance ever recorded on film” — Pauline Kael

“Dreyer’s most universally acclaimed masterpiece remains one of the most staggeringly intense films ever made. It deals with only the final stages of Joan’s trial and her execution, and is composed almost exclusively of closeups: hands, robes, crosses, metal bars, and (most of all) faces. The face we see most is, naturally, Falconetti’s as Joan, and it’s hard to imagine a performer evincing physical anguish and spiritual exaltation more palpably. Dreyer encloses this stark, infinitely expressive face with other characters and sets that are equally devoid of decoration and equally direct in conveying both material and metaphysical essences. The entire film is less molded in light than carved in stone: it’s magisterial cinema, and almost unbearably moving.” — Time Out Film Guide 2007

“Masterfully directed, with groundbreaking use of closeups; Falconetti glows in the title role” — **** Maltin

8.1 IMDB

The Passion of Joan of Arc @ Amazon


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Written by Michael W. Cummins