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The Passion of Joan of Arc

(1928, Dreyer)
A film from the Criterion Collection whose number includes the #2 • A film from the 1920s

"Tell me, how can you still believe you were sent by God?"
"God moves in mysterious ways... Yes, I am His child."
"And the great victory?"
"My martyrdom!"
"And your freedom?"

There are many notable aspects to the life of Joan of Arc. She was a peasant turned war heroine that led many French victories over the English during the Hundred Years War, and she did all that while being a teenage girl. But as notable as her life was, she is also notable for the way she died, which is what this film is about.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is based on the actual trial record for Joan (Renée Jeanne Falconetti) after being captured by England, and features her interrogation and subsequent execution at the hands of the clerical court.

Directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer and released in 1928, the film is itself notable for various reasons. From its production and minimalist set design to Dreyer's direction; but most notably for Falconetti's iconic performance. Originally a stage actress, she delivers an emotionally charged performance, which is impressive for the silent film era. But instead of being limited by that, Falconetti makes the most out of her expressions and her glassy, teary eyes, to the point that you can't help but feel her pain and suffering.

But aside from that, Dreyer's direction is just as impressive. The way he uses the camera is something that feels unlike anything that was done at the time, and maybe even that has been done since. His constant close-ups of the faces of the judges and the court, accompanied by the gorgeous cinematography makes these old, wrinkled men feel grotesque and evil in both their physique and soul.

Finally, Dreyer uses a minimalist set design to create dread and build tension. From the way he shoots the torture chamber they use to intimidate Joan, or the way he shoots the angry mob in the final act. That, along with Falconetti's performance, make of this one of the most beautiful films I've seen.