director Carl Theodor Dreyer
It’s hard to find a list of the best silent films ever made that doesn’t have Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc prominently placed, most often in the top ten (heck, The Guardian even places it at #1). Expanded lists not limited to its place in the Silent Era often include the film too, particularly the more scholarly or at least historically aware.
Dreyer’s camera hangs on tight close-ups of the face of his Joan, Renée Jeanne Falconetti in a performance also considered among cinema’s greatest. Joan had recently been canonized, elevated to iconic status for both the Catholic church and the nation of France, legendary martyr and devout heroine, and Dreyer based the film’s story and dialog on the transcripts of her trial in Rouen in 1431, ending with her death, burned alive before a crowd that immediately reacts in recognition of her sainthood.
I’d long intended to see this film, but never had before Saturday, when I watched it with my kids. I’d been holding out in hopes of seeing it on the big screen, but I don’t know that is really necessary for this film. The whole film almost is in close-up, or medium close-up. The power resonates from Falconetti’s visage, the cruel faces of her tormentors, and some of the film’s other more unusual moving shots.
What more is there to say? It’s indeed a remarkable film.