.. ene of The Passion of Joan of Arc is played out, there is a reality of what really happened that is portrayed by a great actress who performed only in this film. Renee Falconetti’s performance is considered to be one of the finest and most important performances ever in film. The artistry also is the responsibility of the director’s vision, and in reading the original film screenplay, it is obvious that Dreyer was very specific and knowledgeable about the emotional mood he was trying to create. While watching the film, it is sometimes difficult to notice specific technical elements because the visual content is so encompassing.
However, each scene can be viewed on its own in addition to its influence on the whole. The opening of the film serves to set up the history behind the story. The original trial transcript was used in recreating the events for the film. Then, it begins; the opening scene is a perfect example of the use of irregular camera angles and the position of objects in the shot. The camera pans across the rear of a large room. The view is odd from the start since the backs of the judge’s heads are all that is seen. Across the room there are guards, but the center of the shot seems placed on their torsos.
Those same guards are later viewed by only their helmets and spears as they leave the room. Our first view of Joan is from above, her figure is placed only in the bottom third of the shot. She appears very small an oppressed. The judges are looming over her from their platform. Joan’s face remains static and full of emotion from every angle.
Once Joan is condemned to prison, the action goes in two directions. Shots of Joan interacting with a cross created by the light of her window in her cell are inter-cut with shots of the judges plotting to deceive her. The same cross is also used as a sign of the truth when Loiseleur enters the cell to appear to be her confidant. His shadow completely covers the cross as he presents Joan with the false letter from the king. This is one of the few moments where the set becomes an active part of the film.
Another important scene is in the torture chamber where the fast and erratic cutting style is most prevalent in order to create tension. It is here where Joan is offered the opportunity to sign the written confession for the first time. The shots begin to happen quickly as Joan refuses to sign and the judges try to convince her. The camera then pans around the room to view the horrible devices and forms of torture at the judge’s disposal to make her confess. The shots are rapidly alternated from the torture devices, to Joan, and to the judges.
The scene rapidly approaches a climax and it so overwhelms Joan that she faints. Shortly afterwards, she is returned to her cell where her caretakers are told that under no circumstances should she be allowed to die a natural death. The words are few, but are almost as powerful as the images in demonstrating the amount of contempt Joan had to face. The power and realism of Falconetti’s performance is evident as she is placed in front of a crowd to abjure as a sinner and submit to the judge’s wishes. She appears exhausted and unsure of what is real anymore.
Her face shows a lost battle as her hand is guided to sign the confession. She realizes she cannot win no matter how true she is to herself. To watch Falconetti be carried to sign away everything she has believed in is to feel the oppression Joan felt in her lost battle for truth. It is later that she realizes she has betrayed herself – a sin much greater than the betrayal of the “Holy Mother Church.” It is at this point the consignment in her eyes is read as acceptance of her martyrdom and at the same time anticipation of the freedom it will bring to her. As Joan is prepared for death in her final hours, shots of the gathering crowds are placed between the shots of Joan in an effort to show that she is not truly alone in her beliefs. She will not die without leaving an influence. The shots of the crowd are unique because they are viewed running upside-down into the square from high above on an arch.
This view sets up the futility the people will face as Joan as burned as they fight back saying “You have killed a saint!” Whether or not something is considered art is highly dependant upon the point of view of the observer. Art can be defined as the use of skill and creativity to produce aesthetic works. Carl Theodor Dreyer was not conventional by any means in creating The Passion of Joan of Arc. He melded transcendental and expressionist styles, as well as mise en scene elements to create a film that not only tells a story, but also engenders emotional involvement in the viewer. His technical methods were also different with an erratic editing style to generate tension and the anomalous placement of the characters and objects in the shot. He also defied the conventions of the time by using actors with natural faces unchanged by makeup, and extreme close-up shots for a realistic feeling of the power in the portrayal. Art often comes from a looking at things in a different way or from a different angle.
Dreyer did exactly this in his portrayal of the trial of Joan of Arc. For me The Passion of Joan of Arc was artistic because it was powerful emotionally, and accurate in its distinctive approach to the story of a saint. The oppression displayed by the judges made anger an easy emotion to feel. The emotions can also encompass the ideals the judges represent. I found it easy to feel anger towards religion as a whole, but it also made me think about Joan’s plight and what might have been done to accept her.
In my opinion that is what art does best; it makes you think about your own ideals and how your emotions affect your view of the world around you. Film and Cinema.