The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928) – DVD review

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Writers: Carl Theodor Dreyer, Joseph Delteil
Cast: Renee Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Maria Falconetti, Michael Simon, Antonin Artaud

Release Date – 19th Nov 2012

Written, directed and edited by the legendary Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer, his black and white 1928 picture The Passion of Joan of Arc is not only one of the great movies of the silent era, it was recently voted one of the Top 10 Greatest Films of All-Time in the highly influential 2012 Sight & Sound magazine critics poll.

Dreyer’s classic, available in three formats (Blu-ray, DVD, and Ltd Edition Dual Format (DVD & Blu-ray) SteelBook editions), is today released in an exclusive, stunning new restoration in the UK on 19 November 2012 by Eureka! in their Masters of Cinema series & deserves this critical acclaim and much more. One of the most touching cinematic experiences from any period, Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is a unique phenomenon in the history of motion pictures, an enigmatic and overpoweringly stirring work that actually seems to blend the worlds of the viewer and that of Saint Joan.

Amazingly featuring the momentous Surrealist poet, actor and playwright Antonin Artaud, one of the most influential figures in the evolution of modern drama theory (author of the Theater of Cruelty and The Theater and Its Double), as the sympathetic monk Massieu, Dreyer’s film charts the final days of Joan of Arc (Renée Maria Falconetti), captured by the Burgundian allies of her English enemies, as she undergoes the indignities that accompany her trial for charges of heresy and witchcraft by Bishop Pierre Cauchon (Eugene Silvain). Fearing for her life, she withdraws claims to have seen visions of St Michael, only to later repudiate her plea.


Dreyer inexorably follows Joan through her imprisonment and execution at the stake on 30th May 1431. With cinematographer Rudolph Maté shooting the cast in tight close-ups to accentuate every movement of their facial expressions, Dreyer conveys the intensity of Joan of Arc’s cross-examination. Many have justly praised Falconetti’s performance, her first and last on film, as one of the most powerful and heartbreaking ever committed to celluloid. Yet Falconetti’s rousing turn was only made possible through Dreyer’s innovatory semi Expressionist staging and ruthless working methods, coupled with Maté’s resourceful cinematography.

The searing emotional intensity of Dreyer’s masterwork has continued to inspire cutting edge artists through the decades. In his 1962 picture Vivre Sa Vie, Jean-Luc Godard cites Dreyer’s close-ups of the martyrdom of Falconetti in shots taken from The Passion of Joan of Arc. Nana, played by his then wife Anna Karina, sees Dreyer’s film in a Parisian Left Bank theatre and cries in evident sympathy for Joan/Falconetti. In Godard’s 1959 movie A bout de souffle, Jean Seberg was associated, through images, her hair and costume with the saint of Dreyer’s film, and in 1962 Robert Bresson made his own The Trial of Joan of Arc. On 27th August 1995 Nick Cave and the Dirty Three played a live soundtrack to the film at the National Film Theatre in London, while during 1999 Cat Power played her score of the film during many screenings across America.

This exclusively restored high-definition Eureka! master is presented in the film’s original aspect ratio, in 1080p on the Blu-ray, in both 20fps and 24fps playback speeds. There are optional audio tracks: a piano score performed by Japanese silent film composer Mie Yanashita (for the 20fps option), and a radical accompaniment by esteemed American avant-garde musician Loren Connors (for the 24fps option). Newly translated optional English subtitles for Dreyer’s original Danish intertitles and the complete “Lo Duca” version of the film – the version (featuring an alternate edit and soundtrack) that circulated in France and around the world for decades before the rediscovery of Dreyer’s “director’s cut.” Together with an extended illustrated booklet featuring the words of Dreyer and rare archival imagery, this is the definitive home viewing edition of this celluloid masterpiece.

In 1963, future filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich asked Alfred Hitchcock to delineate his theory of “pure cinema” for his book, The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. The eminent director replied that it was “pieces of film put together, like notes of music make a melody.” If ever “pure cinema”, as defined by Hitchcock, ever existed, then Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is an illuminating example.

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc is released on 19th November 2012. The whole film can be watched in full on Vimeo here but of course we recommend you watch it in it’s full glory by purchasing it in one of the formats listed above.

All words by Ian Johnston. More Louder Than War articles by Ian can be read here.

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  1. Wow so my post got censored. Well that doesn’t change the fact that you’re a plagiarist, an intellectual thief, a hack and a coward who won’t own up to his thievery:

    This article plagiarizes from Roger Ebert’s essay on “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”

    Example 1:

    Ian wrote: “Falconetti was an actress in Paris who Dreyer saw on the stage of a small boulevard theater. The play was a little comedy, but Dreyer was transfixed: ‘There was a soul behind that facade.'”

    Ebert wrote: “She was an actress in Paris when she was seen on the stage of a little boulevard theater by Carl Theodor Dreyer,,,It was a light comedy, he recalled, but there was something in her face that struck him: ‘There was a soul behind that facade.’’”

    Example 2:

    Ian wrote: “Dreyer forced Falconetti to kneel excruciatingly on the stone floor set and then erase all expression from her face. The director wanted those watching the film to interpret concealed inner pain…Dreyer filmed the same sequences repeatedly, hopeful that during editing he could discover precisely the correct hint in her facial expressions and wide eyes all her agony and suffering.”

    Ebert wrote: “Legends from the set tell of Dreyer forcing her to kneel painfully on stone and then wipe all expression from her face–so that the viewer would read suppressed or inner pain. He filmed the same shots again and again, hoping that in the editing room he could find exactly the right nuance in her facial expression.

    Example 3:

    Ian wrote: Her unpleasant ecclesiastic inquisitors appear without make-up and their hideous faces seem to reflect their twisted inner souls, while Falconetti, filmed in softer grey, appears somber and inspired with internal assurance.

    Ebert wrote: All of the faces of the inquisitors are shot in bright light, without makeup, so that the crevices and flaws of the skin seem to reflect a diseased inner life…Falconetti, by contrast, is shot in softer grays…she seems solemn and consumed by inner conviction.


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