One face, sometimes that’s all it takes!
Written By: Joseph Delteil & Carl Theodor Dreyer
Directed By: Carl Theodor Dreyer
There’s really no place to begin talking about La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc that isn’t the performance of Maria Falconetti. The film hinges on her performance, and is an all-time classic thanks to her performance. That statement may be hyperbolic, but it’s also very true. What is so captivating about Mademoiselle Falconetti’s performance as Joan is that it is centered on her face. The bulk of La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc is shot in close-up, with all the emotion, the narrative, and the tension coming from the face, and eyes, of Mademoiselle Falconetti. There are those who consider this performance to be the greatest in the history of cinema. I’m not sure if I would go that far, I need some more time to digest what Mademoiselle Falconetti is doing in La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc. That being said, I have no qualms about proclaiming this performance as one of the greatest I have ever seen.
Lost in all the hubbub around Mademoiselle Falconetti’s performance is the direction of Carl Theodor Dreyer. His camera knows where the heart of the film is, that’s why it spends so much lavishing attention to the face of Joan. Herr Dreyer drenches his film in close-ups, not just of Joan, but of much of the rest of the cast as well. This creates an immediacy and a connection to the film. We’re not kept isolated from what is happening, we are invited to be a part of this great moment in history. The way Herr Dreyer directs La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc adds some verve to what is otherwise a cut and dry tale. The judges ask Joan questions, and she replies, repeat this ad nauseum. The direction of Herr Dreyer never allows for the film to become dry or boring. I dare say I was riveted by what was taking place in La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc, and it’s a film with very little in the way of action.
Throughout the film I was interested in what Herr Dreyer seemed to be saying about religion. He was treating Joan as a historical figure, and an important person in the history of the Christian church and France. The judges were portrayed as bad guys, but not evil so much as scared men trying to impose their will on someone who they knew would wilt under their assault. This was brilliantly conveyed in the changing height of Joan’s persecutors. When the film begins she is equal to them, but the longer it goes and the weaker she becomes the more height the judges attain until they eventually tower over Joan.
The ending of La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc struck a chord with me. It wasn’t the ending I was expecting, and no, I am not referring to the fate of Joan. Herr Dreyer does touch on the historical, and spiritual, importance of Joan. However, he also subtly damns religion and the violence it is known for causing. As Joan dies and the people begin to revolt they are struck down by the religious power. In the final moments of La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc Herr Dreyer gives us what has always been the end result of organized religion, death and more death.
There’s not much more I can say about La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc. People have been writing great things about Herr Dreyer’s film since way before I was even born. What I can do is pile on and tell the simple truth that La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc is worthy of all the praise it has ever received. Mademoiselle Falconetti’s performance is one for the ages, and Herr Dreyer’s direction is impeccable. Those eyes will haunt me for days to come, and that’s the best praise I can heap upon La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc.