The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

One of the quintessential silent dramas, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" has an incredible amount of respect surrounding it. Not only are the movie's virtues praised, but the restoration of the piece is also heralded. Not existing in its true original release form, the reconstruction of the film was a labor of love and it is quite spectacular. Now the film appears crystal clear.
You can only really find the Criterion Collection version of the film, which is fine because I appreciate all the work they do for film. On their version, you can watch "The Passion of Joan of Arc" accompanied by Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light. If you can get your hands on this, this is the copy that you should watch. Einhorn was inspired by the film and composed the music post-viewing. Since the film's director, Carl Th. Dreyer, never picked a definitive score (as far as we can tell) Voices of Light is used in lieu of traditional score. The result is stunning.
Perhaps an overly emotional ride for some, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" doesn't really bring anything new to the story that we're all fairly familiar with. Teenaged Jeanne (Joan in English) is brought to trial for heresy/blasphemy. She believes that Saint Michael appeared before her with a message from God. She fights for France, she gets killed because of it.
Tried by a jury of priests, they manipulate Joan into signing a confession which she quickly rebuts. Then they burn her at the stake.
So what makes "The Passion of Joan of Arc" worth watching? It's the same for Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"...we've all heard the story, what makes it good?
The film is good because it is a character study. It examines the emotions, the horrible despair that flooded Joan's mind during those days she was on trial. It exposes the close-mindedness of the church at the time and it also proves that a historical drama when we know the ending can still be moving.
The most famous images from the film are close-ups of Maria Falconetti's face as she cries and cries and cries. Taking some cues from more cerebral films, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" has some very interesting cinematography that at times just manages to get the eyes of a person into the shot. Other times, characters shout right at the camera, and some instances include Joan's face in the very corner of the screen...small and scared.
As the trial proceeds and Joan gets more and more worried about her fate, the rage of the priests is sparked. One man descends onto the trial floor and spits on Joan. Another man, comes down and kneels at her feet, convinced that she is a saint.
The overriding consensus of the jurors is that Joan is guilty of heresy and could be possessed by the devil. They are evil men, portrayed in a Pharisaical fashion. Joan is the epitome of the virginal, blessed girl. There is little shown in the film that could convey the fierceness of a warrior and that I fear is the biggest problem I had. 
While Falconetti's performance is fantastic, her wide eyed stare of terror can get a little....laughable at times. It's almost like she has one emotion.
The film is classic, that much is evident; but perhaps not as influential as everyone thinks it is. The reason for this being the decades that it was lost, only to be rediscovered and then preserved. It's a great film and essential viewing, but I don't consider it one of the greatest movies ever made.

Score: ★★★½

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