Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc


The legend of Joan of Arc channeled through the silent film master, Carl Theodor Dreyer.

The Passion of Joan of Arc () is a 1928 silent film French film based on the Trial of Joan of Arc#Documentary record of Joan of Arc. The film was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and stars Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan. It is widely regarded as a landmark of cinema,


  • Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc
  • Eugène Silvain as Bishop Pierre Cauchon
  • André Berley as Jean d'Estivet, the prosecutor
  • Maurice Schutz as Nicolas Loyseleur, a canon (priest)
  • Antonin Artaud as Jean Massieu, the Dean of Rouen
  • Gilbert Dalleu as Jean Lemaitre, the Vice-Inquisitor
  • Jean d'Yd as Nicolas de Houppeville
  • Louis Ravet as Jean Beaupère (as Ravet)
  • Michel Simon as a Judge
  • Paul Fromet as a Judge
  • Armand Lurville as a Judge
  • Camille Bardou as Lord Warwick, the English Captain in Rouen
  • Jacques Arnna as a Judge
  • Alexandre Mihalesco as a Judge
  • Raymond Narlay as a Judge
  • Henry Maillard as a Judge
  • Léon Larive as a Judge
  • Henry Gaultier as a Judge
  • Paul Jorge as a Judge


=Background and writing=

After the success of Du skal ære din hustru in Denmark, Dreyer was invited to make a film in France by the Société Gėnėrale des Films and proposed a film about either Marie Antoinette, Catherine de Medici or Joan of Arc. He later claimed that the final decision on the film's subject matter was determined by drawing matches. Joan of Arc was in the news in France after World War I, having been canonised as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 1920 and adopted as one of the patron saints of France.


This was star Renée Jeanne Falconetti's second and last film role,< name="kael"></> despite achieving iconic status in film history almost immediately. Falconetti always perred the theater to film and never understood the positive reaction to the film.


File:PassionofJoanofArc.jpg in a scene from the film. Dreyer dug holes in the set to get the low camera angles seen here.}}}
What especially stood out at the time when The Passion of Joan of Arc was made was the film's movie camera and emphasis on the actors' facial features. Dreyer shot a great deal of the film in close-up, stating that "There were questions, there were answers- very short, very crisp... Each question, each answer, quite naturally called for a close-up... In addition, the result of the close-ups was that the spectator was as shocked as Joan was, receiving the questions, tortured by them."< name="Wakeman268"/> Dreyer also did not allow his actors to wear makeup,< name=Dreyer></> the better to tell the story through their expressions—this choice was made possible through use of the recently developed panchromatic film,< name="Ebert"></> which recorded skin tones in a naturalistic manner. Dreyer often shot the priests and Joan's other interrogators in high contrast lighting, but then shot Joan in soft, even lighting. Before its French premiere, several cuts were made by order of the Archbishop of Paris and by government censors. Dreyer had no say in these cuts and was angry about them. Later that year on December 6, a fire at UFA studios in Berlin destroyed the film's original negative and only a few copies of Dreyer's original cut of the film existed. Dreyer was able to patch together a new version of his original cut using alternate takes not initially used. This version was also destroyed in a lab fire in 1929. Over the years, it became hard to find copies of Dreyer's second version and even harder to find copies of the original version.< name="Criterion. Version History"/>
It was re-released in 1933 in a 61 minute version without any intertitles and including a new narration by radio star David Ross. In 1951, Joseph-Marie Lo Duca found a copy of the negative of Dreyer's second version in the Gaumont Studios vaults. Lo Duca then made several significant changes, including a new musical score by Bach, Albinoni and Vivaldi, removing many of the intertitles and replacing some with subtitles. Lo Duca's version was the only available one for many years. Dreyer objected to this version and said that it was in bad taste.< name="Criterion. Version History"/>
The next version of the film was made by Arnie Krogh of the Danish Film Institute. Krogh cut together scenes and sequences from several different available prints to attempt to create a version that was as true to Dreyer's original cut as possible.< name="Criterion. Version History"/>

=Rediscovery of original version=

The original version was lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative and only variations of Dreyer's second version were available. In 1981, an employee of the Dikemark Sykehus mental institution in Oslo, Norway found several film canisters in a janitor's closet that were labeled as being
The Passion of Joan of Arc.< name=autogenerated1 /> The canisters were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where they were first stored for three years until finally being examined. It was then discovered that they were Dreyer's original cut prior to government or church censorship. There were never any records of the film being shipped to Oslo, but film historians believe that the then director of the institution may have requested a special copy since he was also a published historian.< name="Criterion. Version History"/>

Reception and legacy

On its initial release, the film was an unprecedented critical success and immediately called a masterpiece. Unfortunately, it was also a huge financial flop and caused the Société Générale to cancel its contract with Dreyer after the failure of this film and of Abel Gance's
Napoléon (1927 film). Dreyer angrily accused the Société Générale of mutilating the film so as to avoid offending Catholic viewers and sued them for breach of contract. The lawsuit went on until the fall of 1931, during which time Dreyer was unable to make another film.< name="Wakeman268"/>
The New York Times film reviewer Mordaunt Hall raved:
<blockquote>... as a film work of art this takes precedence over anything that has so far been produced. It makes worthy pictures of the past look like tinsel shams. It fills one with such intense admiration that other pictures appear but trivial in comparison.< name=NYT></></blockquote>
Of the star, he wrote, "... it is the gifted performance of Maria Falconetti as the Maid of Orleans that rises above everything in this artistic achievement."Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time]. Listology (14 March 2006). Retrieved 5 June 2012.</> the highest of any silent performance on the list. Jean Sémolué called it "a film of confrontation" and Paul Schrader has praised "the architecture of Joan's world, which literally conspires against her; like the faces of her inquisitors, the halls, doorways, furniture are on the offensive, striking, swooping at her with oblique angles, attacking her with hard-edged chunks of black and white."</> </>
Some critics have found faults in the film, and Paul Rotha called it "one of the most remarkable productions ever realized in the history and development of cinema,
but it was not a full exposition of real filmic properties". Tom Milne stated that "somehow the style Dreyer found for the film seems irremediably false. Instead of flowing naturally from his chosen seems imposed upon them...Throughout the film there is a constant stylistic uncertainty, an impurity, which jars heavily today," but adds that "Jeanne d'Arc has a majestic power which steamrollers its way through all its faults and excesses."< name="Wakeman268"/>
It was banned in Britain for its portrayal of crude English soldiers who mock and torment Joan in scenes that mirror biblical accounts of Christ's mocking at the hands of Roman Empire soldiers. The Archbishop of Paris was also critical, demanding changes be made to the film.< name=NYT/>
The Passion of Joan of Arc has appeared on Sight & Sound magazine's top ten films poll five times: as number seven in 1952< name="The Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll: 1952"></> and 1972,< name="The Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll: 1972"></> and as number ten (Critic's List) and six (Director's List) in 1992< name="The Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll: 1992"></> and as number nine in 2012 (Critic's List). In 2010, the Toronto International Film Festival released its "Essential 100" list of films, which merged one list of the 100 greatest films of all time as determined by an expert panel of TIFF curators with another list determined by TIFF stakeholders. The Passion of Joan of Arc was ranked as the most influential film of all time.< name="TIFF Website"></>< name="Copenhagen Post"></>
Scenes from
Passion appear in Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa Vie (1962), in which the protagonist Nana sees the film at a cinema and identifies with Joan. In Henry & June'', Henry Miller is shown watching the last scenes of the film and in voice-over narrates a letter to Anaïs Nin comparing her to Joan and himself to the "mad monk" character played by Antonin Artaud.


Music for the film was played live in the theatre and there is no evidence that Dreyer ever selected a definitive score. Numerous composers have contributed scores for this film.
  • In 1988, the Dutch people composer Jon van den Booren wrote a modern score for symphony orchestra.

See also

  • Cultural depictions of Joan of Arc
  • List of historical drama films
  • List of films considered the best
  • Trial movies


Category:Films about Joan of Arc
Category:1928 films
Category:1920s historical films
Category:Courtroom films
Category:French films
Category:French historical films
Category:French silent films
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:Films directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer

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