BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #50: The Passion of Joan of Arc, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list has a good number of films I hadn’t seen before so it is a good source for my challenge.
Wow, here we are officially half way through the Battleship Pretension Top 100 list! The Passion of Joan of Arc is a great film to watch for the halfway point. The version of this film that I saw had a few cards at the start explaining that it had initially been heavily edited and then lost due to a fire, but the version that I saw had been found in an insane asylum in Norway and is believed to be as close to the original as possible. This story was already an incredible place to start, but then you add on to it the tragic story of Joan of Arc’s final days and it becomes even more impactful.
The first thing that struck me about the film is how uneven the two sides of characters are. It a group of religious men interrogating a young girl. Even if you didn’t know how things would turn out, you can tell they would never believe her no matter what she said. These men are all much older and physically imposing compared to the small Joan, played by the wide-eyed Maria Falconetti. Joan sits alone in the middle of a room, surrounded by these powerful, angry men who interrogate her for hours, never really listening to her answers. They manipulate her by offering her mass only if she will dress like a woman or offering her communion but denying her the Eucharist unless she confesses. With modern eyes, it is gross and wrong the way they treat her, especially when a small group of men start putting a fake crown on her and taunting her.
Falconetti spends nearly the entire film crying, during what I can only imagine was an exhausting performance. She is really fantastic in the film and makes a believable Joan. There is a moment when she lies and signs the paper they want her to in order to save her own life, and the physical performance she gives during that scene is fantastic. She looks like she is bone-tired and can barely hold the feather pen they give her, but she also finds an inner strength when they finally tie her to stake. I will say the burning scene takes way too long, it almost feels exploitative it goes on for so long.
I was really impressed by the camerawork in the film. Towards the end there is a tracking shot of two guards who are upside down and as the camera follows them, it flips back to right side up and continues to track the guards. It is a shot I have seen many times in modern filmmaking, but I think this is the oldest film I have seen that uses it. It was very impressive for being a film from 1928.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
The Passion of Joan of Arc ranking: Cruiser