Reviews

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc

5

Forget Luc Besson's actioner and watch this 1928 masterwork instead...

There are two kinds of `Greatest Films Ever Made' lists. The first are voted for by telly viewers and are topped by Star Wars. The second are compiled by film historians and academics. Start with Citizen Kane and work down: La Règle Du Jeu, The Godfather, Vertigo, Seven Samurai... And there, somewhere between 15 and 25, is The Passion Of Joan Of Arc. How boring.

Only it's not. Carl Dreyer's silent soul-scorcher, ripped from the transcripts of Joan's trial, is an affecting, indelible masterpiece. It's hard to think of another film that contains such anguish, such inner torture, that turns watching a plain old movie into a spiritual experience.

Majoring on close-ups, it centres on Renée Maria Falconetti's extraordinary face as she endures inquisition, torture and, finally, death at the stake. Her crime? Heresy, the 19-year-old country-maid-turned-national-liberator claiming that she defeated the Brits with the help of the heavens above.

Dreyer rearranges film grammar to attune audiences to Joan's disorientation, refusing to offer establishing shots or even matching cuts. White faces loom out of the dark but it's impossible to tell who sits where. The result is a film that captures Joan's suffering with exquisite beauty.

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