Cast & Crew
Carl Th. Dreyer
Spiritual rapture and institutional hypocrisy are brought to stark, vivid life in one of the most transcendent achievements of the silent era. Chronicling the trial of Joan of Arc in the final hours leading up to her execution, her torment is depicted with startling immediacy, to immerse viewers in her subjective experience.
Carl Th. Dreyer
Carl Th. Dreyer
Carl Th. Dreyer
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Thanks to the great success of Master of the House (1925) in France, the production company Societe Generale de Films invited Dreyer to make a film with them in 1926. Potential subjects included Marie Antoinette and Catherine de Medicis, but finally Dreyer and the Societe Generale settled on Jeanne d'Arc, who had been officially declared a saint only six years earlier. Some French nationalist critics complained that Dreyer, as a Dane, was not an appropriate choice for the project. Pierre Champion, who had published a 1921 edition of the trial transcripts, was asked to be a historical consultant. The preproduction period lasted about a year, during which time Dreyer conducted exhaustive research on the medieval era. Shooting lasted from May to November of 1927; the film was shot in chronological order. The initial budget was seven million francs and the final costs were approximately nine million, making it one of the most expensive French productions of its day.
Renee (Maria) Falconetti (1892-1946), the actress who plays Jeanne, was a popular star of the French stage, appearing in works like La Garconne by Victor Margueritte; incidentally, that play is credited with starting the fad for the Charleston in France. In an interview taken by Richard Einhorn and included on the Criterion Collection DVD edition, Falconetti's daughter relates that when Dreyer first approached her mother for the part, he stated that he 'could see behind the heavy makeup a suffering woman, and a rustic one, too.' As with the other actors in the film, Dreyer required her to perform without makeup, an artistic decision possible only due to the introduction of panchromatic black-and-white film stock a few years earlier; because of its sensitivity to a broader spectrum of light, panchromatic stock provided significantly improved rendering of flesh tones. Dreyer's directing method called for absolute silence on the set, which was unusual for silent films. He typically provided very little direction to his actors, leaving them to search within themselves for the best means of expression. At the same time, he was notorious for requiring multiple takes, sometimes as many as forty, until he found exactly what he wanted. Dreyer recalls: "With Falconetti, it often happened that, after having worked all afternoon, we hadn't succeeded in getting exactly what was required...And the next day, we would have the bad take from the day before projected, we would examine it, we would search and we always ended by finding, in that bad take, some little fragments, some little light that rendered the exact expression, the tonality we had been looking for. It is from there that we would set out again, taking the best and abandoning the remainder." Falconetti pleaded that her head not be shaved at the end of the film, but Dreyer was unwavering in his demand for 'authenticity.' While this was Falconetti's only major film role, it stands out thanks to its emotional intensity.
The film's production designers, Hermann Warm and Jean Hugo, consciously modeled the sets after medieval illuminated manuscripts, not only in terms of architectural details, but also in the simplicity of line and the naive treatment of perspective and scale. (Warm, one of Germany's leading set designers at that time, was best known for his use of distorted perspectives and painted shadows on the set for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920). Warm and Hugo's set was one of the most expensive created in Europe up to that time, a virtual city in miniature. The outer walls were solid enough to support lighting equipment and camera crews. Some of the interior walls were mounted on tracks to facilitate moving them for camera setups. However, because of the film's heavy reliance on close-ups not all of the set is even visible in the film.
Stylistically, The Passion of Joan of Arc is among the most daring works of the silent era. It is of course best known for its harrowing close-ups, but it is also noteworthy for its exaggerated camera angles, off-centered framings and unusually rapid editing. There are about 1,300 total shots in the film not counting the intertitles, a much higher count than average for that era, partly inspired by Eisenstein's use of montage in The Battleship Potemkin (1925). As David Bordwell points out, one of the film's more remarkable features is its disorienting sense of space as constructed through shot composition, editing and camera movement. Without necessarily sharing Jeanne's point of view, we get a feeling for the emotional stress under which she was placed.
According to film scholar Casper Tybjerg, Dreyer in fact intended the film for a wide audience and it was well-received at a free public advance screening. However, the film ended up being marketed mainly as an 'art film' and was not a commercial success in its initial release. Undoubtedly, matters weren't helped by the fact that sound films had already begun to take the world by storm by the time the film was released and silent films were losing their audience.
The film did, however, receive much critical acclaim. During its initial U.S. release, the film received a fair amount of coverage in the New York Times from the end of 1928 through the first half of 1929. Mordaunt Hall praised the film warmly, writing: "It is a production of unequaled artistry, for its technique, so different from other films, grows on one until thoughts are only for the story." Hall also wrote a subsequent article devoted solely to Falconetti's performance: "She, it is true, has been guided with veritable genius by Mr. Dreyer, but as one witnesses her eyes filling with tears or perceives a faint graceful smile crossing her appealing countenance, one feels that it would be difficult indeed to elicit from any other actress such an eloquent interpretation as she gives in this production." Pauline Kael later wrote: "One of the greatest of all movies....No other film has so subtly linked eroticism with religious persecution. Falconetti's Joan may be the finest performance ever recorded on film."
Almost as dramatic as the film itself is the history behind its destruction and resurrection from the ashes. In 1928, a fire at the UFA studio labs in Berlin burned the original negative. A shattered Dreyer was forced to edit an entirely new version of the film using outtakes; fortunately, his notoriously demanding working methods ensured that multiple takes existed for each shot. While this was necessarily a "second-best" version, it was nonetheless extremely close to the original. To compound matters, this second negative was long believed destroyed in a 1929 fire (the nitrate film stock used during that time was highly flammable). However, in 1951 the film historian Lo Duca discovered a surviving negative, presumably of the second version. This added a soundtrack of Baroque music, intertitles decorated with images of stained glass and church pews, and cut off the left edge of the image to accommodate the soundtrack. A less adulterated version was circulated by the Museum of Modern Art. Miraculously, in 1981 a Danish print was discovered in the janitor's closet of a Norwegian mental institution. Not only was it of the original version, but it was uncut and in good condition. The 1985 Cinematheque Francaise restoration, the version broadcast on TCM, uses this print with reconstructed French intertitles.
The Passion of Joan of Arc is undoubtedly one of the most difficult silent films to score effectively; one could even argue that it is, atypically for silent films, best viewed without music. There is always a danger that the prospective composer or arranger will fall back on cliched notions of "spirituality" without somehow confronting the film's radically experimental style. The searing close-ups, off-centered framings and disjunctive editing are, after all, an important source of the film's emotional power. The 1951 version distributed by Lo Duca, for instance, appropriates music by Bach, Vivaldi and Albinoni in an attempt to impose a comforting sense of piety on the proceedings.
The version broadcast on TCM is accompanied by Richard Einhorn's acclaimed 1994 oratorio Voices of Light, which has often been performed in conjunction with the film in recent years, though it is also designed to be performed independently. The voice of Jeanne is sung by Anonymous 4, a leading female vocal quartet specializing in medieval music; texts quoted in the oratorio include writings by the famed medieval feminist writer Christine de Pizan and male 'misogynist' writers from roughly the same era. The bell sounds were recorded at the church in Domremy, Jeanne's birthplace.
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Script: Carl Th. Dreyer and Joseph Delteil
Photography: Rudolph Mate
Art Direction: Hermann Warm, Jean Hugo
Principal cast: Renee (Maria) Falconetti (Jeanne d'Arc); Eugene Silvain (Pierre Cauchon); Maurice Schutz (Nicholas Loyseleur); Antonin Artaud (Massieu); Andre Berley (Jean d'Estivet); Jean d'Yd (Guillaume Evrand).
by James Steffen
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Believed lost until a complete print was found in a mental institution in Oslo. See also Brennende Acker, Der (1922).
Dreyer originally intended The Passion of Joan of Arc to be shown without musical accompaniment, however a score by Richard Einhorn is on all versions of the film available today.
After completing the original cut of the film, director Carl Theodor Dreyer learned that the entire master print had been accidentally destroyed. With no ability to re-shoot, Dreyer re-edited the entire film from footage he had originally rejected.
Real blood from a real puncture wound was used in the scene in which Joan's arm is cut, but it was that of a stand-in and not Maria Falconetti.
Released in United States 1927
Limited re-release in United States November 24, 2017
Released in United States on Video October 26, 1999
Released in United States April 21, 1928
Released in United States 1983
Released in United States February 1989
Released in United States October 1995
Released in United States October 1999
Released in United States 2001
Released in United States March 2010
Shown at the National Film Theatre in London, England as part of a special two-month program dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard, June 1 - July 31, 2001.
Shown at South by Southwest Film Festival (Special Events) March 12-20, 2010.
Video release features Richard Einhorn's "Voices of Light" an original orchestral work inspired by the film.
Video version from an original, near perfect print of Dreyer's original cut that was discovered in 1981 in a broom closet of a mental institution in Oslo, Norway. (The original print was destroyed by fire.)
Released in United States 1927
Limited re-release in United States November 24, 2017 (New York)
Began shooting May 1927.
Completed shooting October 1927.
Released in United States on Video October 26, 1999 (from original print)
Released in United States April 21, 1928 (Premiered in Copenhagen April 21, 1928.)
Released in United States 1983 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Post Exposition Event) April 13 - May 1, 1983.)
Released in United States February 1989 (Shown in New York City (MOMA) February 23 & 27, 1989.)
Released in United States October 1995 (Shown in New York City (BAM) as part of program "The Passion of Joan of Arc: Voices of Light" October 25 & 28, 1995.)
Released in United States October 1999 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Carl Theodor Dreyer: Tribute to the Great Danish Director" October 13-19, 1999.)
Released in United States 2001 (Shown at the National Film Theatre in London, England as part of a special two-month program dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard, June 1 - July 31, 2001.)
The U.S. video and DVD release of Gaumont's original version of Carl Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" by Home Vision, Inc. and Criterion.
Released in United States March 2010 (Shown at South by Southwest Film Festival (Special Events) March 12-20, 2010.)