The Passion of Joan of Arc
(La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc)
To witness The Passion of Joan of Arc is to glimpse the soul of a saint in her hour of trial. The film is more than a dramatization, more than a biopic, more than a documentary: It is a spiritual portrait, almost a mystical portrait, of a Christ-like soul sharing in the sufferings of Christ. At the heart of this portrait is the haunting face of Maria Falconetti, whose transcendent evocation of the Maid of Orleans has been called the greatest performance ever filmed. It is a haunting face because it is a haunted face: a face overshadowed by visions, by fear, by death. Crushing exhaustion, visionary ecstasy, peasant cunning, and unconcealed terror wash over her features.
Dreyer didn't simply reenact scenes from Joan's trials, he virtually recreated them. The shoot proceeded chronologically rather than according to production convenience, and lasted six months, about the same time-frame as the real trials. Verbal exchanges between Joan and her interlocutors were taken directly from the historical records of her trials, and the costumes and props, based on fourtenth-century paintings, are also authentic.
Joan's best lines are faithfully reproduced, from her disarming replies to questions about St. Michael's appearance to her great rejoinder to the question whether she is in the state of grace: "If I am not, may God put me there! And if I am, may God so keep me!" In this film, Joan again stands accused, and her long silences and simple answers continue to frustrate and confound.