Go to Homepage   The Passion of Joan of Arc: Balanced Vision

 

Crescent Blues Book ViewsImage:three and a half moon gifCriterion Collection, Home Vision Cinema (DVD), ASIN 0780022343
Movies like The Passion of Joan Of Arc are the reason I watch movies. I search for movies that leave me slack jawed in their intensity, breathless with their ideas and overjoyed by the abundance of talent on display.

movie: the passion of joan of arcThe 1928 film directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer hews faithfully to the actual transcripts of Joan's trial. The dialogue comes complete with shadow conspiracies and trapdoor questions. You find lots of fresh and contemporary, prickly memorable drama in the words alone. Dreyer's technical contributions combined with his uncanny go-for-the-throat pacing exerted an immeasurable influence.

For example, the jump cuts that Dreyer employed from close-up to close-up, whether from character to character, or character to object and back, was brand new in 1927. Dreyer saw their use as a way of maintaining a sense of dizzy confusion. Francis Ford Coppola did not dream up the finales to Godfather I and II out of thin air. Dreyer nails the tension by putting the viewer squarely in Joan's seat. The film cuts to speaker after speaker pelting Joan with questions, with no shots of any outside scenes or wider perspectives. The technique makes sense. You don't look at the tree in the shady grove outside when your life depends on your responses to a relentless, multi-person inquisition. The film's court scenes maintain an iron-taut grip on Joan's perspective.

With the questions flying a mile-a-minute, the lack of title cards should not come as a surprise. Put yourself on the stand while seemingly dozens of judges and prosecutors and audience members ask you questions simultaneously. Dreyer's visuals and uncanny editing rhythms (had he been born 60 years later, he'd be bangin' on the Ramones) qualify as absolutely visionary.

However, this perspective comes with a handful of terrific emotional moments that humanize all characters. This film goes a long way for viewers of this side of the ocean toward adding at least one dimension to the view of Joan as a schizoid George Washington. Asking Joan to recite the Lord's Prayer, the prosecutors play on a huge emotional chink in her armor. A single tear rolls down her cheek as she remembers learning the prayer with the guidance of her mother. No maudlin flashbacks, no nothing except that tear to fill in a galaxy of emotional associations.

The visually replete finale contains not only the pulsing urgency of riot and fire, but provides a visual soul to the madness comparable to the finale of Titanic. Visual acuity and dramatic acuity -- the gifts of even the greatest directors can favor too much of one over the other. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc indicates a director who, beautifully, for at least one film, achieved balance.

Michael Pacholski

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