Silent film is definitely an art form which is definitely not as prominent as it once was. After all, with all of the technology in film these days and the blustering sound effects, why even bother? Well, silent film reminds us that storytelling can be as simple as paying attention to the emotions conveyed through a face. No other film does this better than “The Passion of Joan of Arc” directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1928.
The screenplay of the film displayed on title cards is based on the transcripts from Joan of Arc’s trial, for which she was accused of heresy and was unfortunately convicted of the same and executed at the very young age of 19. The story is quite bleak and the sets/backgrounds of the movie are quite minimalistic, reflecting the stark realities of Joan’s impending doom. Thus, the movie is carried on the intense emotion and conflict conveyed between Joan and her accusers, as well as the deep sympathy the people of France felt for Joan upon her death. It also highlights the continued battle in all societies regarding upholding the ideals of longstanding institutions by those with vested interests versus those who pose a threat to what those institutions stand for (the contents of this sentence could be a post on its own). At the centre of this all was Joan, portrayed by Renee Falconetti. I have never seen a thespian in the silent or sound era express more emotion than she did in her performance. You as the viewer go on a journey with her as she expresses hope, sadness, fear, bravery, and a sense of resolution through her conviction of portraying the role quite sincerely. The contingency and continuity of emotions in the film were only amplified by the cinematography – a multitude of close-up shots focusing on the facial expressions of the characters and not so much their surrounding environments.
The title reflects a steadfast and defiant teenager who consistently conveyed her compelling connection with God, as well as her conviction as an ambassador to France. Some historians suggest that Joan may have been suffering from a psychotic illness, and she may have been based on potential delusions of grandeur with religious content. Whatever is true, Joan of Arc sacrificed her life for the people of France, and her dignity and bravery will be celebrated for generations to come through the brilliance of this film.
I do not own the above image.