Motion pictures today is very much a man’s world. Sure, there are many strong women in popular movies, but they are always sexy and usually there is also a strong man somewhere in the background to help out when needed.
This has not always been so, however. It may perhaps surprise some to learn that in the days of silent cinema, strong and independent female characters where not at all uncommon.
With La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc), director Carl Theodor Dreyer created a film which is so powerful, so naked and so immediate that it still, over 85 years later, will take your breath away.
The film was made in France, with actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti (usually credited as “Maria Falconetti”) in the title role, but the director is Danish, and it was also first screened in Denmark.
The director’s own copies of the film were destroyed by fire (a fate shared with many a silent film) and for many years only inferior copies, not approved by the director, were available. But in the 1980s, a single remaining original copy surfaced in Oslo, Norway.
In my opinion, there is only one problem with this film. Dreyer based the film very closely on historical transcripts of Joan of Arc’s trial, but gives us next to no background. In the beginning, only the title tells us who the central character is, and we are not informed of the place, the time, or any other characters. In a way, this beginning strengthens the force of the narrative, but since Dreyer binds himself to telling the story in strict linear fashion with no apparent deviations from actual historical events, the viewer is left even at the end with next to no knowledge of why anything in the movie happened in the first place. The viewing experience is totally dependent on whether you know the background or not.
In spite of this, La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is a must see for every cineast. It is one of the most important films in the history of silent cinema, and it is a powerful experience.
This film is best enjoyed as a celebration of International Women’s Day, the 8th of March every year.
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc
Running time: 1 h 22 min
Language: French (no subtitles)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Stars: Renée Jeanne “Maria” Falconetti
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Low (384×288)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Cinepack (700 M)