avatarThe Passion of Joan of Arc

"Hey, want to watch this 2 hour long French silent film from 1928 about the court proceedings of Joan of Arc of 1431?" Miracles in the world must exist, as I have found the special someone who wanted to watch it with me, even with the glowing review I gave above.

But I digress. The Passion of Joan of Arc is such a monumental piece of work and its importance in the filmmaking, arts, history, simply cannot be overstated. Much has been written, regurgitated, analyzed, researched, and published about the film. For the sake of keeping it real, please allow me to keep it real with you. It took me almost an entire week to collect my thoughts, do some more reading, familiarize myself with Casper Tybjerg’s commentary, and simply, feel the work through more.

I did not remember nor recall the story of Joan of Arc as much as I wanted to, and as much as I should have before clicking the play button. It must have been since my middle school, when I first learned of her great military conquests, early and progressive feminist movements, of how she became the symbol of freedom and independence—savior of France.

Surprisingly, Dreyer’s film about Joan of Arc included none of that, in fact, it did not even include any staff credits or anything—went straight to the movie, I assume to keep it pure from references to anything that is not directly about Joan of Arc—more precisely, her trial after she got captured by the English and tried for her "heretical" ideas.

The structure of it somewhat reminded me of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, which is arguably the most important piece of film ever produced due to its influence on absolutely everything that came after (like, montage). I will confess, Battleship Potemkin is not my favorite film. I’ve had to watch it, study it, and write papers for my film courses at university, so its raw value doesn’t go unnoticed on me, but it’s more of something that I have more respect for, rather than connecting to on some emotional or innate level (which I usually prefer).

The Passion of Joan of Arc suffers a similar fate with me. I respect it as none other, its influence is so overwhelming that it more or less, defines the experience I get from it. So much so, I even misunderstood how the plot went in some points.

For example, I did not know that the soldiers tin caps in the court meant to represent the English soldiers, whom Joan was fighting against; I did not know that the court representatives they got weren’t selected as any other court would, but they were the most august canons of the Roman Catholic Church (lots of authority, of course), who traveled to Paris to judge Joan; I did not know that the court proceedings were tainted by egregious cases of mistrial and forgery of documents.

Speaking more to that, Nicolas Loyseleur, the canon, played by Maurice Schutz, I thought he was there to help Joan on behalf of Charles VII, and I was confused seeing him all smug and detached near the end of the movie. Apparently, on another watch, I understood that he and Pierre Cauchon collided together, forged documents, such that it would put Joan in an impossible situation during the trial, where no matter what she says—she would be immediately convicted of both blasphemy (for talking of salvation so confidently) and of heresy (for testifying seeing visions of archangels, like Michael, therefore, circumventing the power of the Church).

This is all to show that the amount of details, number of facts one has to know to get to the smallest (yet most important) details that Dreyer put out is truly astounding. In many ways, peeling it back, rewatching, reading more—makes the further experience so much more enriching. Technically, for the time, the film is flawless. An absolute absence of any establishing shots, and instead, punting it all in on facial close-ups is such a deliberate choice on the director’s part, which allowed Renée Jeanne Falconetti provide chilling and haunting depiction of Joan of Arc throughout the trial, from the highs of God’s love, to the pit of despair, when the court, the Church, her country, her people went on stripping her authority, dignity, and worst of all, her faith, away from her; and how she fought the all-encompassing tyranny of man.

This is Passion of Joan of Arc. This is devotion.

Thank you for your passion and patience, Dear K.K.