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Quick-Thoughts: Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Obnoxiously, I’m close to convinced that the silent age of cinema may not be my bread and butter, yet, it would be preposterous if I were to deny that I was pretty blown away by the sheer revolutionary filmmaking in The Passion of Joan of Arc, in consideration that it was made almost a whole century ago. Specifically, while factors such as the cinematography and acting won my heart over in many aspects, I’d rather discuss the two things that I thought carried this project the most:

1. The Editing

The Passion of Joan of Arc’s razor-sharp editing genuinely seems timeless despite its age. For example, my favorite scene in the motion picture was when Joan was forced into the “torture chamber,” where she had to undergo a harrowing toll on her morality and beliefs, fighting between the possibility of physical pain and the possibility of letting down her divine leader. Its schizophrenic and experimental quick-cutting between various subjects such as the torture wheel, Joan herself, the bystanders, the perpetrators, and the hand in the pen make for quite the anxiety-inducing effect. It’s electrifying to see a movie released in the 20s have such predatory editing in a time that seemed a lot more cautious and a lot less precarious when it came to what was produced as entertainment byproducts.

2. The Music

Yes, so I heard that Richard Einhorn’s score is in addition to the 2018 Criterion restoration—so it’s not an original asset of the movie, so to say. Howbeit, I couldn’t imagine myself gracefully watching this film without it. Sure, you can make your case about silence and how visual interpretation can be more poignant than visual and audibly sensible interpretation, but movies often have music for a reason—some abuse the power more than others, but it isn’t nearly the case in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic. The libretto’s appropriately styled orchestra is so intricately interwoven with the sequences and their specific tones that it almost feels as if the music is telling a big chunk of the story as well. It fits the time period immaculately, it fits the mood of the events, and it does its job immensely well. 

There’s a brand of a blessing as well as a curse in the movie’s decision to not give comprehensible context or background to exactly why Joan of Arc is where she’s at during the very start of the picture and thereon out. It allows the viewers to immerse themselves into assumptions of what could be truths and lies when it comes to the court case, but it can also make sequences feel more perplexing than convincing such as its rambunctious final five minutes. I’m no Joan of Arc connoisseur, so it’s safe to say this could’ve been the root of why I didn’t find the talked-about silent film to be 100% all that. Its historical coverage on Joan’s situation that is iced with symbolism rather than detailed milieu will either break or make the film for some viewers—but probably make.  

Verdict: B+ 

“The Passion of Joan of Arc” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime and The Criterion Channel.

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