It seems perversely apt that Carl Theodor Dreyer’s decision to film the last days of Joan of Arc’s life was determined by drawing matches.
Toying between her, Marie Antoinette or Catherine de Medici, it was this random (but somewhat symbolic) lottery method that led the Danish director to the martyred Maid of Orleans – famously, gruesomely burnt at the stake for her unswerving belief that she was on a mission from God to drive the English from 15th-Century France.
Rightly heralded as a pinnacle in silent cinema (and beyond – in 2010, critics at the Toronto International Film Festival voted it the most influential film of all time), Dreyer’s resulting black-and-white psychodrama is unfailingly unique.
Taken from trial transcripts, it begins as judges batter Joan (Maria Falconetti) with questions about her “blasphemous” beliefs, Dreyer shooting almost exclusively in disorientating close-ups.
The (very expensive) recreation of Rouen Castle melts into the background, with Dreyer’s camera squarely trained on human faces – full of reverence, tears, madness, deceit, anger and horror, as we’re taken from Joan’s interrogation to intense, rapidly-cut scenes of torture and turmoil.
A stage actress, Falconetti never made another film. She didn’t need to.
Her take on a woman “whose heart will remain the heart of France” is definitive. The same should be said for this twodisc package.
Beautifully restored – and a Blu-ray premiere – it boasts multiple versions (including the complete ‘Lo Duca’ cut that circulated in France before Dreyer’s original edit was rediscovered), two different scores and alternate playback speeds.
Matches not included.